Colombo: The Sri Lankan Navy has arrested at least 54 Indian fishermen and seized five trawlers for allegedly poaching in the country's territorial waters, an official statement said here on Thursday.

The Navy arrested the fishermen on Wednesday off the coast of northern and northeastern areas.

Having considered the impact of foreign fishermen poaching in Sri Lankan waters on the local fishing community and the sustainability of fishery resources of Sri Lanka, the Navy is conducting regular patrols to curb illegal fishing activities in Sri Lankan waters , the Navy said in the statement.

The Navy nabbed a large Indian fishing vessel with 14 personnel on board, about 3 nautical miles off the coast of Kovilan in Jaffna.

Two more Indian fishing vessels with 20 personnel for engaging in trawling were arrested about 7 nautical miles off Pesalai, Mannar and 5 nautical miles off the Iranativu Island, the statement said.

Two more Indian fishing vessels with 20 personnel were arrested about 7.5 and 8.5 nautical miles off Mullaitivu. The two vessels had trespassed into Sri Lankan waters about 62 nautical miles, crossing the International Boundary Line (IMBL) when the apprehension was made, the Navy said in a statement.

The Navy said it had previously informed the Indian authorities when similar incidents of trawling by Indian fishermen were reported.

The illegal entry of foreign fishermen into Sri Lankan waters and the use of prohibited fishing methods like bottom trawling to catch even very small fish has seriously threatened the marine ecosystem and endanger the livelihood of fishermen in the northern part of the island .

Fishermen from both countries are arrested frequently for inadvertently trespassing into each other's waters. The fishermen issue has become a major irritant in bilateral ties.

In January, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar visited Sri Lanka, he met with Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda and raised the fishermen issue and reviewed bilateral cooperation in fisheries.

"We look forward to the early return of our fishermen from Sri Lanka," Jaishankar had said.

Later, a three-member committee was appointed by the Sri Lankan government which will make recommendations on measures to stop poaching by Indian fishermen inside the country's waters after four people were killed when an Indian trawler capsized after colliding with a Sri Lankan Navy vessel.

On January 18, the Sri Lankan Navy said that they seized Indian fishing trawlers allegedly poaching in Sri Lankan waters, trespassing the IMBL. The Navy said one of the Indian fishing trawlers, with aggressive manoeuvres attempted to evade the scene and collided with the Naval craft in operation and ultimately sank at sea having lost its stability.

India also lodged a strong protest with Sri Lanka over the death of four fishermen in a collision between their vessel and a naval craft of the island nation.

Also, During his five-day visit to India in February last year, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi agreed to resolve the long-festering fishermen issue with a "humane approach".

'345 Gujarat Fishermen Lodged In Pakistan Jails'

Meanwhile, the Gujarat government told the Legislative Assembly on Thursday that 345 fishermen from the state are languishing in Pakistani jails, of whom 248 were arrested by the neighbouring country in the last two years.

State Fisheries Minister Jawahar Chavda said this in a written reply to a query over fishermen from Gujarat held in Pakistan.

As on December 31, 2020, a total of 345 fishermen from Gujarat were in Pakistani jails, he said.

Of these, 248 fishermen were arrested in the last two years - 85 in 2019 and 163 in 2020 - Chavda said in reply to a starred question by Congress MLA Shailesh Parmar.

The minister said that the government is taking efforts to get these fishermen released, and submitted the required documentary proofs to the Ministry of Home Affairs for further action after verification of their nationality.

In a related question, the minister said that the government has extended Rs 37.70 lakh financial assistance to the fishermen in Porbandar to install GPS in their fishing boats.

Fishermen from Gujarat are on several occasions held by Pakistan Maritime Security Agency after they cross the International Maritime Border Line (IMBL) while fishing deep into the Arabian sea.

Fishermen from Gujarat districts, such as Porbandar, Gir Somnath and Devbhumi Dwarka, mistakenly cross the maritime border in the Arabian sea and end up in Pakistani jails.

The state government has been conducting awareness programmes and also assisting fishermen in setting up GPS to alert them when they come near the IMBL, he said.

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