Tamil Nadu fishermen plying their trade in the Palk Straits and frequently facing arrests by the Sri Lankan Navy for alleged bottom trawling in their waters, can now exchange their traditional trawler boats for deep-sea fishing boats through a government-funded scheme.
The scheme - diversification of trawl fishing boats from Palk Strairs into deep sea fishing boats - is aimed at encouraging fishermen to take up deep-sea fishing and put an end to disputes arising between the two countries.
Bottom trawling, an ecologically destructive practice, involves trawlers dragging weighted nets along the sea-floor, causing great depletion of aquatic resources.
Additional Director of Fisheries Johny Tom Varghese told PTI that the project helps fishermen in the Palk Straits, who are not exposed to deep-sea fishing, to venture deep into the Indian Ocean, Arabian sea and other deep sea areas to look for fish like tuna that are in high demand.
"It is also to bring an end to issues between Sri Lanka and India," he said, adding that such disputes arise mostly in the Palk Straits region.
"Fish are getting depleted on our side. Also our fishermen practise bottom trawling, which is banned in Sri Lanka. To find a good catch, they go on the other side and get caught," the director said.
The scheme, under the aegis of Blue Revolution scheme - is funded by the Centre - 50 per cent and state government - 20 per cent for a boat costing Rs 80 lakh.
Of the balance 30 per cent, 10 per cent is contributed by the beneficiary (fisherman), and the remaining 20 per cent is funded by banks.
The project aims to replace all trawler boats and introduce over 2,000 deep sea fishing boats in a course of five years with a cost of Rs 1,600 crore, the director said.
"Our fishermen in the Palk Bay region are used to only one-day fishing. Deep sea fishing is a 10-30 day affair. They will be given skill development training to learn the trade," he said.
Chief Minister K Palaniswami inaugurated the scheme on Tuesday through video conferencing by flagging off the first four boats manufactured by the Cochin Shipyard.
The boats were later handed over to four fishermen.
The state-of-the-art boats, called 'Tuna long lining and gillnetting fishing vessels,' are equipped with modern navigation and communication equipment, besides advanced net hauling and liner winches.
Other facilities include galleys, bio-toilet,refrigerated seawater system and stainless steel-cladded PUF (Polyurethane Foam) insulated Fish Hold to preserve the catch.
Two fishing harbours, Kunthukkal and Mookaiyur, both in Ramanathapuram district are also being readied exclusively for the deep-sea fishing boats.
Priority would be given to fishermen whose boats have been apprehended by Sri Lanka and those damaged in their custody, among other categories, a government order said.
Cochin Shipyard is building a total of 16 such boats, besides other shipyards.