Recovery of Sri Lanka Fishing Industry Requires Thousands of Boats

Recovery of Sri Lanka Fishing Industry Requires Thousands of Boats
Reuters AlertNet – London,England,UK

Recovery of Sri Lanka Fishing Industry Requires Thousands of Boats

Sri Lanka needs thousands of boats to get its fishing fleet back to sea. Donations of boats, new boat yards and factories and micro-loans to help the fishing industry rebuild are crucial to restore employment and food supplies for hundreds of thousands Sri Lankans.

The tsunami destroyed 80 percent of Sri Lanka’s fishing boats, according to Mahinda de Silva, a fisheries expert at Sewa Lanka, a development organization that works throughout the country. As a result, the country has lost a nationwide source of nutrition, as well as employment for an estimated 170,000 fishermen.

Before the tsunami, there were about 30,000 boats in Sri Lanka’s fishing fleet, Sewa Lanka estimates. The boats included sail-powered catamarans, fiberglass boats powered by outboards (locally known as 21-footers), larger boats with inboard motors and big trawlers for deep sea fishing (locally known as 90-day boats). Da Silva estimates that the country needs 12,000 of the 21-footers, plus nets and other equipment, to get the industry functioning again. However, boats can’t be produced locally now, since most of Sri Lanka’s 50 plants for building small boats were washed away.

The devastation extends far beyond the loss of boats and the yards and factories to build them. Ten of the nation’s 12 major fishing harbors were destroyed by the tsunami. What’s more coastal estuary sites, where shrimp and small fish were farmed, have been silted up and destroyed.

Restoring the fishing industry will require massive investment in nets, boats, harbors, and storage and transportation facilities. Take the issue of storage. Most fish was stored in ice houses before shipment to Colombo and other cities and then packed in ice for shipment. The tsunami destroyed both the ice-making facilities and the storage lockers.

Right now the psychological impact of the tsunami has reduced the demand for fish. There is so much antipathy toward the ocean that few are eating the fish that is available. Sri Lankans fear that corpses have contaminated both the ocean and the fish. Local health and development authorities expect the appetite for fish to return overtime. They also expect that people who are now fearful of getting close to the ocean will gradually return to the sea for their livelihood.

A 39-year old fisherman in the country’s Habaraduwa District, which extends along the east coast from Galle to Ahabgama, spent two weeks in a Buddhist temple after the tsunami destroyed his home on the coast. “We were running, running from the wave,” he said. He lost a niece, and “my children are afraid to go to the village.” But he left the temple to rebuild his home and his business. “My country’s people want to eat fish” and rice, he explains. “Rice, I don’t know. I know only fishing.”

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