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Fishing in Dire Straits

Trans-Boundary Incursions in the Palk Bay

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Controversies related to Indian trawlers crossing into Sri Lankan waters of the Palk Bay have repeatedly been the subject of newspaper headlines in both India and Sri Lanka since 1990. The first aim of this paper is to provide grass-roots insights into the post-war status of the north Sri Lankan fishing population and how their recent recovery has added a new dimension to the Palk Bay conflict. The second purpose is to create a better understanding of the nature of this conflict and to analyse the relevance of existing and proposed governance responses. Contrary to popular perception in India, this paper argues that since the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka the nature of the conflict in the Palk Bay has changed from one in which Indian trawler fishermen were faced with the Sri Lankan navy, to one which sets them primarily in opposition to the technologically less advanced Sri Lankan fishermen. It concludes that the governmental and fisher-based efforts to settle the conflict are ineffective as long as Indian parties do not acknowledge the nature of the conflict and the Sri Lankan authorities do not bring the fishermen and their government closer together.

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