Rs. 16.3 billion – the reward of obeying EU rules

The lifting of the European Union (EU) ban on the export of fishing products from Sri Lanka will bring in about 100 million euros – Rs. 16.3 billion – in annual revenue, the Director-General of the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Christy Lal Fernando, said.

Prior to the ban, the country had earned nearly 78 million euros in revenue from fish exports to the EU. Following the sanction, earnings had plummeted to 19 million euros.

“Today we can earn approximately 100 million euros, primarily because the cost of fish is high and also because we can earn more from foreign exchange,” Mr. Perera said.

His comments followed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s disclosure that the EU was satisfied with Sri Lanka’s improved compliance with international obligations to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and that this had led to the ban being lifted.

The introduction of a more efficient control and monitoring system in Sri Lanka and assurances over implementing the catch certification scheme were contributing factors, an EU Council decision stated.

“In 2014, I promised to get rid of this sanction when we came into power, and we have been taking the necessary measures, since President Maithripala Sirisena first took office,” PM Wickremesinghe said.

The EU Ambassador to Sri Lanka, David Daly, said there was a global problem with illegal fishing and this was costing tens of billion euros every year for fishermen all over the world.

“We take this global problem very seriously. We have strict rules for EU fishermen and these apply no matter where these fishermen fish in the world,” Mr. Daly said.

“We believe that the global problem can only be solved if all countries participate in trying to have better management systems for the fisheries sector,” he added.

The ambassador said the EU had begun discussions with Sri Lanka about this matter in 2010. The parties had two years of informal discussions and, in 2012, proceeded to more formal discussions.

“All the time it was very clear that we wanted to have stronger co-operation with Sri Lanka in terms of addressing the problem. But addressing the problem means having stronger national systems for fisheries management,” Mr. Daly said.

This was not a question of imposing EU standards but of Sri Lanka living up to its own obligations. For example, he said, Sri Lanka had a number of obligations as a member of the United Nations in terms of fishing, and it also had responsibilities as a member of the Indian Tuna Commission. “But it wasn’t meeting these obligations. So over four years of discussions there was some progress but it wasn’t enough and it wasn’t fast enough,” Mr. Daly said.

“Too little, too late and too slow” – and that’s what impelled the EU to impose the export ban, he said. “We were very disappointed that it came to that.”

After the ban was imposed Lankan authorities took the issue more seriously and began to address it, Mr. Daly added. “This has taken a lot of work but the progress made has been recognised by the EU in terms of lifting the ban.”

As part of this process at different stages Sri Lanka began to be more vigilant, to ensure that all fishermen were using a logbook for example. “If you don’t have a logbook you have nothing. You go out you bring your fish, nobody knows what you’ve caught and you sell it at the market. The logbook is the most basic thing, so not having logbooks is an incredible gap in any system,” Mr. Daly said.

“The Director General of the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources was telling me that they want to move to the next stage and have electronic logbooks. Obviously an electronic logbook would be a huge advance. But today it is a realistic ambition for Sri Lanka.”

Mr. Daly noted with approval the new fishermen’s centre in the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

“When you’re in this centre you can see a map of the whole Indian Ocean,” he said. “And you can see these little red dots on the map. Each dot is an individual fishing boat and when you click on it, you can see all the details.”

The map showed if fishermen were out fishing and where they should be or should not be, with 1,500 boats going on the high seas being monitored every minute.

“It’s a huge transformation of the management system,” Mr. Daly said. “If a country does not have a solid management system for its fisheries, then we go back to the global problem of illegal unregulated fishing. So that’s the big success today.”