By Skandha Gunasekara
The fisheries industry that has been struggling to get by has been hit hard by the current fuel crisis, resulting in smaller catches each week.
Sri Lanka has been facing a severe fuel shortage in recent weeks with fuel supplies at its lowest in all parts of the country – an issue that has arisen as a direct result of the ongoing foreign exchange crunch.
The northern fishing community, which has been dealing with the problem of Indian fishermen poaching in Lankan waters and depleting our fish stocks, is now doubly afflicted, with the fuel shortage curtailing trips out to sea even further.
Jaffna District Fishermen’s Association President Annalingam Annarasa speaking to The Sunday Morning said that more than half the fishing community could not engage in fishing at present.
“As a result of this more than 60% of fishermen have not gone out to sea to fish. It’s concerning that the Government has not paid attention to the plight of the fishing community.”
He said that kerosene was barely available and when it was, the time spent waiting in queues took away the possibility of any incursions into sea.
“We have been severely affected because of this. We need 50-60 litres of kerosene per day for fishing activities, but we have to wait in line for about three or four hours to get the kerosene. This is also an issue because we are not allowed to put kerosene into random containers and have to bring a certain type of container.”
Annarasa added that they had spoken with the Government but had failed to receive a positive response thus far, and that if the situation continued they would have to end up begging the Government for food.
“We have had discussions with the Minister of Fisheries but no solution has been provided. If this continues we will have to go to the Government and beg for food as we don’t have a livelihood anymore.”
The All Island Fishermen’s Association too lamented over the challenges faced by the fishermen, and its Spokesman Rathna Gamage told The Sunday Morning that if this situation continued, the entire industry would collapse.
“At this point the situation is so bad that the fisheries industry has almost come to a standstill. We would have to get the numbers from each harbour and dock but the majority of fishermen are unable to go out to sea to fish as they do not have the necessary fuel supplies to make the journey.”
He stated that there was not even enough fuel for the minimum amount required for a multi-day fishing vessel and that procuring kerosene was near impossible. He reiterated the sentiments of the northern fishermen that standing in queues would curtail the time that could be spent fishing.
“A multi-day fishing vessel requires at least 4,000 litres of diesel at the minimum. So the amount of fuel that is available for purchase is not even close to being enough to even meet the minimum requirements of multi day fishing vessels. Usually a multi-day fishing vessel goes out to sea for a period of about two weeks, so it is not possible for them to pump half a tank and attempt such a journey. It is the same with kerosene. A number of docks and harbours reported that they were facing a shortage of kerosene supplies. In addition, the time spent in queues to procure kerosene is several hours so that itself reduces the time a fisherman can go out to sea and catch fish.”
Gamage added that the fuel crisis, along with the rising costs, would result in an increase in fish prices: “If this continues there will be a shortage of fish supplies in the market. There is also the problem of increased cost for fishermen. Fuel prices have increased and will continue to increase. The price of ice also has increased by around 25%. Fifty kilogrammes of ice used to cost Rs. 220, but it has now climbed to Rs. 280 and more. These price increases, along with rising costs of essential products required by fishermen to conduct their livelihood and the shortage of fish stocks will definitely result in an increase in fish prices in the market in the coming weeks.”
Alpex Marine (Pvt) Ltd. Chairman Chandrasiri Mayakaduwa said that more than 700 boats had failed to go out on their fishing activities last Tuesday (1).
“Boats are not going out fishing. No boats had gone out on Tuesday. There are around 700 boats in Kudawella but none of them have gone out. Around 400 to 500 boats go out to sea 12 days each month. This number will drastically reduce because of the fuel issue.”
He said that in addition to impacting fish exports, he too expected fish prices to increase with the reduction in fish supplies and that he did not expect much support from the Government.
“This has affected our business. As the amount of fish we catch reduces so do our exports. If this causes a shortage then there could be an increase in prices. It’s a simple matter of demand and supply. There is no point talking to the Government about this. They don’t provide solutions.”
Meanwhile, Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Secretary R.M. Indu Rathnayake said that the Ministry was doing what it could to assist the fishing community and that the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) had been instructed to provide fuel as soon as possible.
“It is clear that the fuel shortage is affecting all sectors but as the Ministry of Fisheries, we will take measures to address this issue and the challenges faced by the fishing community. The Minister has given special instructions to the CPC to provide adequate fuel as and when they can to those engaged in the fisheries industry. The Minister has specifically asked to release both diesel and kerosene as those are the two fuel types mainly used in the fishing industry. But it is a difficult situation all around.”
Rathnayake added that the Government would provide fuel at a reduced price to the fishing community if fuel prices were to increase.
“Yes, we have made a special request from the Cabinet of Ministers to provide relief to the fishing communities if fuel prices are increased. We understand that the fishing community cannot bear further expenses, so we will make sure to provide some relief – possibly by giving fuel at a lower rate.”
She acknowledged that the fuel crisis was affecting the fishing community significantly and the Government was doing its utmost.
“We cannot lie and say that there is ample fuel because anyone can see that the country is facing a massive fuel crisis. But the Ministry is taking all steps to ensure that fuel is supplied to fishing communities and we expect it to not cause too many inconveniences.”