Develop the fisheries sector in the North to speed up the recovery of Sri Lankan economy!

In the Northern Province of Sri Lanka widespread disparities still exist in the socioeconomic conditions within the coastal communities compared to their counterparts in the rest of the country; that has been significantly affected by the three decades of civil war which ended in 2009. Today the incidence of poverty in two of the coastal districts Mannar and Mullaitivu within the province remains high at 20.1% and 28.8% respectively, compared to the national average of 6.7%. The fisheries sector provided livelihoods for more than 40,000 families in the Northern Province, which accounted for 40% of its marine fish catch prior to escalation of the conflict in 1983 and the Province’s fish catch dropped considerably during the conflict as fishing was banned as the coastal belt was declared a High Security Zone. Although there has been a slight increase after the war ended in 2009, it has not yet returned to its previous level as the fishers in the Northern Province have limited access to essential fisheries infrastructure. There are no natural fishery harbors and many anchorage sites are damaged by the conflict and extreme weather events, the last major being the tsunami of 2004. Taken collectively, these points highlight the fact that strengthening of the coastal fisheries sector offers one of the most promising options to spur economic growth and recovery in the Northern Province.

Myliddy described as a typical fishing village is in Tellippali Divisional Secretariat Division in Valikamam area and in proximity to Jaffna Airport and Palali Military base, was one of the popular and thriving fishing spots in the Peninsula. The Myliddy harbour and 54 acres of land was handed over to the District Secretary, Jaffna and the above photo was taken by the writer after access was available to public in July 2017. Myliddy Fisheries Harbour in Jaffna in the 1980s was one of the major fishery harbours that in the country was the second most popular fishery harbour in Sri Lanka and served as a historic economic landmark in the Northern Province. that contributed significantly to the fisheries sector. During the conflict, Myliddy fisheries jetty harbour became non-functional and was under the custody of Defence Authority since 1990. Due to the conflict situation, the landing site, breakwaters, harbour basin including jetties, and the shore facilities including ice factory and fuel station are in a dilapidated condition. Prior to the conflict, the fishery harbour contributed significantly to the national fish production (1/3 of the national fish production) and provided livelihood for 1,500 families.

The government has decided to rehabilitate the fishery harbour on an urgent basis given its strategic economic importance as part of the reconciliation process. The fisheries harbour and infrastructure development will be undertaken by the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development and the Master Plan was approved and under a special Budget Proposal allocated Rs. 150 million for the rehabilitation of Myliddy fishery harbour. The public investment intervention included (a) rehabilitation of breakwaters; (b) dredging of harbour basin including access channel (entrance channel); (c) Quay walls, jetties and navigation lights; (d) development of other shore facilities such as Auction Hall, Net Mending Hall, Community Hall and Market Hall; (e) rehabilitate fuel station with storage tank and (f) access road, utilities and related facilities. Further investments have been identified in (a) fuel station; (b) establishment and operation of ice factory; (c) boat and engine repair workshop; (d) establishment of fish processing and canning centre and (e) fishing gear shop and other fishing related areas to put this harbour into full operation.

Further, the government requested the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to undertake project preparatory technical assistance for the preparation of the Northern Province Sustainable Fisheries Development Project. The project is expected to assist the fisheries sector in the Northern Province through development of fishery harbors, and rehabilitation of related infrastructure at anchorages and fish landing sites; support for sustainable aquaculture, and improvement of opportunities for income and revenue generation for affected households within the coastal communities of the Northern Province. These three interventions was expected to increase the fisheries production in the Northern Province consistent with objectives articulated in Sri Lanka’s Ten-Year Development Policy and Framework of the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Sector, 2007-2016. Given the fact that there are no natural fishery harbors along the coast of the Northern Province, currently fishermen from the North must travel for extended distances to land their catch at harbors outside the province. While the support services and facilities that typically develop at and around larger harbors (e.g., secure berthing for vessels, dry-dock and repair, fuel, refrigeration, storage, and processing facilities) exist, they are not centrally located and integrated, making their access more difficult and inefficient. Facilities at existing anchorages and landing sites are in need of upgrading and repair. One of the major concerns at these sites is the prevalence of unsanitary conditions that affects the quality of fish products, especially dried fish. At many of the anchorages, breakwaters and other protection works are not properly engineered, or have deteriorated. For these reasons, support will be provided for the development of two new harbors at Point Pedro and Pesalai, and improvement of facilities at 7 anchorages and 21 fish landing sites. As one of the hardest-hit areas of the country affected by the long-running armed conflict, and subsequently by the tsunami of December 2004, the residents of the Northern Province have experienced untold hardship over a period spanning several decades, and they deserve the chance to get back on their feet again, both psychologically and economically.

The Northern Province Sustainable Fisheries Development Project offers the promise of strengthening the enabling environment for carrying out fisheries activities in the North on a sustainable basis, with the end result that livelihood opportunities for residents of coastal communities in the area, who are also some of the poorest in the nation. When these projects come to full completion, it is expected that those engaged in activities in the fisheries sector in the Northern Province will once again assume a key role as valuable contributors to the nation’s foreign exchange revenue stream and expedite the overall economic growth of the nation.

For further reading on the plight of fishermen in Northern Sri Lanka, visit Northern Breeze @