An ocean of possibilities
The humanitarian mission in the North is drawing to a
close, with the Tigers confined to a very small area of land.
The civilians are leaving the Tiger dominated area in droves,
although the LTTE is trying its best to stop the influx by
shooting and killing them.
The regaining of territory and the exodus of civilians from
LTTE dominated areas is a victory for the Forces and the people.
But one should not think in terms of land territory alone
when appreciating the commitment of Forces. The Tigers or rather
its naval wing the Sea Tigers had huge camps along the Northern
coastline and their boats regularly engaged in gun running and
human trafficking in these seas. The 2002 ceasefire gave them a
free run in the Northern and Eastern seas.
The Navy and the Army, with the support of the Air Force,
have destroyed nearly all of these LTTE facilities during the
The Navy destroyed several LTTE boats just a couple of days
ago and earlier, it sank nearly 10 vessels carrying weapons for
the Tigers. Thus the Forces have effectively ended the Sea
Tigersí run. The entire ocean surrounding Sri Lanka can now be
described as a terror-free zone.
This will be a boon for Northerners, especially fishermen and
others depending on the sea for their livelihood. President
Mahinda Rajapaksa has asserted that along with the eradication
of terrorism and the consequent expansion of the sea area, the
nationís youth, inclusive of those of the LTTE, could now be
fruitfully engaged in the uplift of the Motherland.
The Government has already lifted fishing restrictions in
Jaffna and some other areas in the North. It will only be a
matter of time before such restrictions are eased in the newly
liberated areas as well.
With the liberation of the North and the East from ruthless
terrorists, there has been a marked improvement in the fisheries
sector. Due to security reasons, certain restrictions had been
imposed on fishing activities in the past.
Quite apart from the eradication of LTTE terrorism on the
high seas, Sri Lankaís ocean area has been enhanced
exponentially - 23 fold - under international maritime
conventions. This is indeed a vast area that we cannot exploit
with the present resources.
Sri Lanka has a poor record of exploiting its ocean
resources. It is well known that foreign trawlers poach in our
territorial waters. Sri Lankans often cynically say that fish
netted in Lankan waters find their way to Sri Lanka again in
canned form. Indeed, Sri Lanka spends billions of rupees every
year on fish imports.
Considering that we are surrounded by a vast ocean, this is
ridiculous, to say the least. Fish is a really nutritious food
enjoyed by people from all communities and religious groups and
lower prices for locally harnessed fish will enable more people
to consume it.
The authorities must devise strategies to harness the marine
resources of this vast ocean area. An effective Coastguard,
distinctly different from the Navy, is a must to protect our
The Navy too will have to continue its role as a defender of
the seas. More multi-day trawlers equipped with the latest
equipment including GPS, radar and fish finding Sonar must be
distributed among fishermen.
As the President has pointed out, we hope the new Ocean
University will play a vital role in harnessing the potential of
our expanded ocean area by producing youth qualified to helm
various sectors of the fisheries industry. Preference should be
given to the sons and daughters of fishermen, as there had been
a tendency by the younger generation to move away from fisheries
and even agriculture for white collar jobs in the cities.
LTTE youth undergoing rehabilitation could also be involved
in this process in addition to youth from other parts of the
country. The Ocean University should conduct advanced research
into the extent and availability of fish resources around the
The authorities should seek the assistance of Sri Lankan
oceanographers and fisheries experts now domiciled abroad to
develop the fisheries sector. The concept of sustainable fishing
should be introduced, so that certain species are not hunted to
It is also vital to strengthen the tsunami warning system
around the island. This system should be introduced to the newly
liberated Northern coastline as well. It is vital to educate
fishermen on the workings of such a system and how they should
be prepared for any such eventuality.
As the saying goes, there will be an ocean of possibilities
for the fisheries sector in the years ahead. The planning
process must start now so that the country can reap the benefits