India and Sri Lanka are separated by the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL).Fishermen from both sides cross over to the other side for bottom trawling fishing expeditions and those results in arrests and, on many occasions, shootings.

About the issue

  • Indian boats have been fishing in the troubled waters for centuries and had a free run of the Bay of Bengal, the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar until 1974 and 1976 when treaties were signed between the two countries to demarcate the maritime boundary — the IMBL.
  • However, the treaties failed to factor in the hardship of thousands of traditional fishermen who were forced to restrict themselves to a meagre area in their fishing forays.
  • The small islet of Katchatheevu, hitherto used by them for sorting their catch and drying their nets, fell on the other side of the IMBL.
  • Fishermen often risk their lives and cross the IMBL rather than return empty-handed, but the Sri Lankan Navy is on alert, and have either arrested or destroyed fishing nets and vessels of those who have crossed the line.


  • It is important point to note that despite the signing of maritime boundary agreements, fishermen communities of both the sides continued their fishing in the Palk Bay area peacefully until the Eelam war broke out in 1983.
  • After the end of war in 2009, the Sri Lankan fishermen have been raising objection to Indian fishermen fishing in their waters.
  • One of the major reasons which complicating the issue is of Katchatheevu Island. India ceded that uninhabited island to its southern neighbour in 1974 under a conditional accord.
  • In 2009, the Sri Lankan government declared Katchatheevu Island as sacred land owing to a Catholic shrine’s presence on the piece of land
  • According to Joint Working Group on Fisheries (JWGF) data of December 2016, 111 boats of Tamil Nadu fishermen and 51 Indian fishermen were in arrest or in detention in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province.
  • On February 8, 2018,seven fishermen from Tamil Nadu were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy for allegedly straying into their waters.
  • In June 2019 ,Four Tamil Nadu fishermen were seriously injured after they were attacked by Sri Lankan naval personnel while fishing in the island nation’s territorial waters

Present situation

  • Fishermen from both countries have been in talks for a long time to resolve the conflict.
  • Sri Lankan fisherman demand an immediate end to incursions by Indian trawlers, and those from Tamil Nadu insist three-year phase out period.
  • Tamil Nadu fishermen are arrested from time to time by the Sri Lankan Navy, and their vessels are also seized.
  • Sri Lanka’s legislative amendment is to prohibit bottom trawling, a destructive fishing practice, is a welcome move despite its likely near-term consequence of deepening the fisheries conflict in the Palk Bay region.
  • Political parties claim the amendment is draconian and it is targeted at the State’s fishermen who regularly use hundreds of trawlers in Sri Lankan territorial waters.
  • Initially, the Sri Lankan Navy used to release the arrested fishermen along with their vessels but has now started detaining the trawlers, each worth about ₹50 lakh.

Usage of GPS

  • The IMBL is imaginary, but it was geo-tagged and is visible to the fishermen
  • The latest ‘Garmin 585’ GPS sets can flash the boundary line on the screens and fishermen have the option to view the line in the colour of their choice.
  • Many boat owners in Rameswaram have already switched to modern GPS sets for precision fishing.

Steps taken:

  • The Indian government has undertaken a census of fishermen, preparing a database of information on fishermen and their boats to be used for more effective monitoring of fishing activities.
  • The Indian Coast Guard has also begun installing tracking devices in fishing boats operating in the waters, developed by the ISRO, the tracking device has the ability to send out alerts for fires on board, a sinking vessel, a medical emergency and when the boat is apprehended by another country.


  • The solution lies in the transition from trawling to deep sea fishing.
  • There is need for institutionalization of fishing in Indian waters by the government of India, so that alternative means of livelihood are provided.
  • The Government will have to make up a comprehensive plan to reduce the dependence of Indian fishermen on catch from Palk Bay.
  • Blue economy is an ignored issue in India and that seems to have led to the current crisis, so there is need to address this issue also.
  • The Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of Ocean Development are the nodal bodies responsible for giving technical assistance to states for the development of fisheries and blue economy.
  • Extra deployment of Navy and Coast Guard
  • Avoid shooting incidents due to “mistaken identity”, ‘coordinated patrolling’ between marine forces
  • Educate the Indian fishermen to keep to the Indian side in the high sea.