Source: The Hindu Relevance: GS Paper II (India and Its Neighbourhood)

Context: The repeated detentions of fishermen from Tamil Nadu and Puducherry by the Sri Lankan Navy in the Palk Bay, despite top-level diplomatic efforts, along with the assaults they face at sea by armed civilians, are causing significant alarm.

Numbers show a significant increase, with 69 fishermen arrested this year compared to 240 in the entire previous year.


  • Bottom trawling is a fishing technique that involves dragging large nets across the sea floor to catch fish and other marine life. 

  • This method uses a net that is weighted down with heavy gear, allowing it to scrape and sweep the bottom of the ocean as the boat moves forward.

Impact of Bottom Trawling in Marine Ecosystems

  •  While bottom trawling is effective for capturing a wide variety of sea creatures, it is also controversial due to its environmental impact. It can lead to significant destruction of seabed habitats, including coral reefs and seagrass meadows, and often results in high levels of bycatch, which is the capture of non-target species. 

  • This indiscriminate fishing practice is considered one of the most destructive to marine ecosystems, leading to calls for regulation or bans in certain areas to protect the marine environment.

Impact of Bottom Trawling:

➢ Sri Lankan authorities justify their actions by citing protests from fishermen in the Northern province against those from Tamil Nadu.

Bottom trawling, which has been banned since July 2017, remains a divisive issue, impacting the livelihoods of Sri Lankan Tamil fishermen.

The ecosystem in the Palk Bay is under threat due to the continued practice of bottom trawling, affecting marine biodiversity and sustainability.

Broken Promises and Incentives:

➢ Despite assurances to halt bottom trawling in the Palk Bay, Indian fishermen persist in this harmful practice.

➢ The implementation of the Blue Revolution Scheme, designed to promote deep-sea fishing, has not effectively deterred bottom trawling activities.

Implications of the Arrest of Indian Fishermen by Sri Lanka:

Increased Tensions: The arrests contribute to escalating tensions between India and Sri Lanka, straining diplomatic relations.

Humanitarian Concerns: Fishermen endure prolonged detentions, with some held in custody for months, raising humanitarian concerns.

Financial Losses: The confiscation of valuable fishing equipment, such as nets and boats, results in significant financial burdens.

  • For instance, in 2024, authorities seized 10 boats, exacerbating the financial strain on the fishermen.

Impact on Diplomatic Relations:

➢ Despite efforts of high-level diplomatic interventions, including agreements for periodic meetings and working groups, the issue persists without resolution, underscoring the strained relations between India and Sri Lanka.

Initiatives taken by India to reduce Bottom Trawling:

➢ Recent measures implemented by the Government of India to cease bottom trawling in the Palk Bay region consist of:

  • Launching a program to transition bottom trawlers into deep-sea fishing vessels for tuna longlining under the Blue Revolution Scheme.

  • Constructing fishing harbours in Mugaiyur and Poompuhar.

  • Conducting capacity-building programs for fishermen in the Palk Bay area focused on deep-sea tuna longlining.

  • Additionally, the Government of Tamil Nadu has prohibited fresh registration for bottom trawlers in the Palk Bay area.

  • India has communicated that initiatives promoting seaweed farming and sea- cage farming have commenced in the Palk Bay region to discourage fishermen from engaging in deep-sea trawling.

What Should be Done in This Situation:

Promote Alternative Fishing Methods:

  • Encourage alternative fishing techniques: Since India has committed to discontinuing bottom trawling and incentivizing deep- sea fishing through the Blue Revolution Scheme, further endeavours are required to guarantee this transition.

Respect Maritime Boundaries:

  • Educate and equip fishermen: Provide education and resources to fishermen to prevent inadvertent crossings into Sri Lankan waters, considering the proximity of the International Maritime Boundary Line.

➢ Regularize Diplomatic Talks:

  • Institutionalise diplomatic dialogues: Ensure the scheduled semi-annual meetings between the Ministers of Fisheries are adhered to, and maintain the proposed quarterly meetings of the Joint Working Group on Fisheries.

Address Humanitarian Concerns: 

  • Prioritise humanitarian aspects:  Following the emphasis by India’s Prime Minister, approach the matter as a humanitarian issue, prioritising the well-being of the fishermen and their families.

In conclusion, India has taken significant steps to address the issue of bottom trawling in the Palk Bay area, including transitioning fishermen to alternative methods and implementing bans on fresh registrations. These efforts reflect a commitment to sustainable fishing practices and the preservation of marine ecosystems.

Advait IAS