There is a need to ensure the survival of the small scale fisherfolk in the aftermath of the tsunami, and in case the Sethusamudram project is implemented, according to a group of representatives from community based organisations and lobby groups campaigning for the rights of fisherfolk.
Fisherfolk from Asia were the worst hit by the tsunami. They not only lost loved ones, livelihoods, homes and boats and fishing gear but also their resource base - mangrove swamps, coral reefs, and coastal fish breeding grounds - that supported their livelihoods.
They are already experiencing the hardships created amid post tsunami crises. And if the Sethusamudram Project is implemented it could lead to further marginalisation of the fisherfolk, according to the above groups.
The groups had deliberations with the officials of ITDG South Asia, Ruhuna University, National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA), Coastal Conservation Department and Task Force for Rebuilding the Nation(TAFREN) at a workshop organized by Intermediate Technology Development Group, South Asia on the impact of the tsunami, and the Sethusamudram project, on the small-scale fisheries industry and coastal resources.
Among the presentations at the seminar were: 'Impact of the Tsunami on small-scale fishery industry in Sri Lanka' by Tinil Fernando of NARA; 'Impact of tsunami on coastal resources - a case from Sri Lanka' by Dr. Ruchira Cumarathunga of the University of Ruhuna; 'Impacts of the Sethusamudram project on coastal resources and fisheries sector' by Turney Pradeep Kumara of the University of Ruhuna; 'Role of fisher communities and other stakeholders in rebuilding the fisheries sector' by Herman Kumara of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement and the 'Trends and future directions of the fishery sector in the post tsunami rebuilding process' by Patrick Mulvany of ITDG UK.
The seminar discussed the fishery industry and its economic benefits to the country and its people. The sector provides considerable number of direct and indirect employment opportunities to nearly one million household dependants.
In 2003 the sector obtained foreign exchange worth Rs. 9.5 billion through marine product exports. Its contribution to the country's GDP was estimated at 2.6%.
However with the tsunami this sector suffered severe losses. The death toll of fishermen was 5,006, around 32,989 houses of fishermen were affected by the tsunami and 24,572 were destroyed and around 17,157 of the marine fishing craft were destroyed and 4,241 damaged, an ITDG South Asia spokesperson said.
According to Tinil Fernando, the total loss in fish production would be around 86,000 tons in 2005. Therefore, the country's foreign exchange earnings from fish exports will be lowered by 1/3 as a result of non-availability of fish for export.
The natural coastal habitats (coral reef, estuaries, lagoons, mangroves, salt marshes and sand dunes) are immensely productive, essential for national growth and a rich reservoir of genetic resources and bio diversity. However, as a result of the tsunami the fragile corals had been damaged by vigorous water and coral rubble movement and the entanglements of fishing nets and clothing.
Turney Pradeep Kumara said that having a buffer zone, a green belt and involvement of coastal communities for conservation measures such as clean up of beach areas, mangroves and reefs and eco tourism measures such as artificial reefs and wrecks are necessary strategies for coastal zone management.
Dr. Ruchira Cumaratunga from the University of Ruhuna who is also in the committee from Sri Lanka on the Sethusamudram project spoke of the impacts of the Sethusamudram project on coastal resources and small-scale fishery Industry.
The Sethusamudram project could affect most important ecosystems - coral reefs and also dredging the canal will stir up the dust and toxins that lie beneath the sea bed and will adversely affect the population of corals. Further, an upsurge of coastal currents due to the Sethusamudram project can lead to higher tides and to more energetic waves, and hence to coastal erosion.
In addition the changes of ecology and the food chain have a negative effect on the fish population, which can in turn affect the lives of the hundreds of thousands of fisherfolk in the area.
Herman Kumara from the National Fisheries Solidarity (NAFSO) explained the role of fisher communities and their organisations in rebuilding the small-scale fisheries sector.
He alleged that the scholars, governmental departments and fisherfolk had not been involved in developing the post tsunami recovery plan for the fisheries sector.
Patrick Mulvany, an international activist and campaigner for the rights of the small-scale farmers and artisanal fisherfolk, stated that although the largest humanitarian response was generated by the tsunami, fisherfolk could anticipate worse conditions.
This is mainly due to organisations and institutions of the fisherfolk in many cases, being decisively weakened not only by the disaster itself, but, also by people and institutions, who take advantage of the disaster to further their interests.
Speaking further on the rights of artisanal fisherfolk Mulvany said that as NGOs and other organisations that work in support of peasant and fisherfolk organisations and communities, we need to commit ourselves to support the defence of labour-intensive, beach-based fisheries, as well as the monitoring of relief and reconstruction efforts, raise awareness and campaign against dumping of discarded fishing vessels from industrialised countries in tsunami-affected areas and strengthen local government authority level organisations.
The future of fishing, provision of fish and the conservation of the coastal areas depend on the survival of small-scale coastal beach-based fisheries, he added.
Participants also proposed certain recommendations, such as involving a relevant national or international agency to study the impacts of the Sethusamudram project and to work closely with local organisations involved in the fisheries sector to obtain their recommendations in the process.