By N. Lohathayalan –
Few have heard of Paruthitivu, in the seas off Jaffna. It is a small island between the better known Eluvaitivu and Analaitivu. I report here an unlawful sea cucumber farm being run there by Minister Douglas Devananda’s EPDP men with Chinese investment. This charge is made by islands-based fisheries organisations whose claims are validated here.
The islands of Neduntivu, Nainativu, Analaitivu, and Eluvaitivu, lying West of the Jaffna Peninsula, are inhabited islands under the Jaffna Administration. Paruthitivu is considered uninhabited with only one Roman Catholic Church (besides another church in ruins). Fishermen fish in waters around the island ad dry their nets there.
It was in the year 2020 that one person was authorized to set-up a 10-acre sea cucumber farm. Even this authorization expired in 2021. Yet, fisheries associations accuse three persons of running sea cucumber farms there. In these circumstances to look into these accusations we made a trip there. We observed a 40 acre farm with numerous personnel of whom one senior administrative figure was a Local Government member of Douglas Devananda’s EPDP running the fisheries ministry.
I observed over 40 acres of Sea Cucumber Farms approaching Analaitivu in one direction and encroaching on the seaways used by boats during the church festival in the other direction.
The people of Eluvaitivu informed us that that 90% of their numbers rely on the sea for their livelihood. They rely so much on the seas of Eluvaitivu and of Paruthitivu. It is their serious grouse that in these present times when the prawn and lobster populations are growing. a red-carpet welcome is being given to outsiders to areas buddling with this valuable sea-life in the name of earning foreign exchange.
Indeed, in the time of the lobster season and in the time of the prawn season, a fisherman could earn a fortune. This is because lobsters for example go at Rs. 8000/kg.
At this time which should be good for the locals, the Ministry of Fisheries under Douglas Devananda is establishing farms on the ground for prawns. Fishermen say they are very suspicious when artificial cultivation of sea life is promoted at the expense of natural means of fishing, thereby curtailing the latter.
John Bosco, aka Kuttimaama, the head of the Analaitivu Fishermen’s Association, stated firmly that they had voiced their objections to the Paruthitivu Sea Cucumber farm to the Fisheries Department, and District Secretariat, and had even gone up to Douglas Devananda, the Minister of Fisheries. He stated, “At the time we objected, the farms occupied only 10 acres. Yet, like Hanuman’s tail elongating, the extent of occupied land has increased in measures of km in every direction.”
The fisherfolk’s main objection is that the farm has encroached all round and is obstructing even small boats like theirs putting out to sea.
We contacted the Kayts Pradeshya Saba Secretary Mrs. Anjula and asked her if ever the required permit had been given to run the sea cucumber farm so close to the seas of Paruthitivu. She responded, “Since 2018 when requests were made for permits, we have not issued any permit to operate a farm at any place, whether to an individual or any agency. This was based on stern objections from our fisheries associations.”
Based on her response, we put the same question to Deputy Director (Northern Province) Niruparaj of the National Aquaculture Development authority; that is whether they had authorized any Sea Cucumber farm. His response:
“We gave permission subject to further study only to one agency in the year 2020. It was limited to one year and confined to 10 acres, with conditions. As our conditions were not fulfilled, our permission was not renewed at the end of the year.”
When all related agencies are denying having anything to do with the Sea Cucumber Farm, we asked A. Anrasa of the fisheries associations, whether he knew anything more. He responded:
“We contacted the related fisheries stakeholders and took them for dialogue with the pertinent authorities. However, the requests of the local fishermen were totally ignored. It is for this reason that we have turned to the press for the first time. At the same time, a person with the responsibility to stop these illegal activities is always seen on the farm. This is what arouses our varied suspicions over the bona fides of the relevant authorities.”
“Based on these directly observed facts, we believe that the illegal sea cucumber farms in Paruthitivu are run on Chinese investment,” assert the fishing associations. We examined these serious accusations of the illegal operation of the cucumber farms against Chinese nationals. On that day, 2 October, we found that a Chinese national had travelled in the morning by car from Jaffna to Kayts and then from Kayts to Eluvaitivu by a regular boat for travellers, and thence from Eluvaitivu to Paruthitivu by an unregistered boat. He had returned to Jaffna that same day evening.
Deputy Director of Coast Guard Vishnu was asked for clarifications several times, but he stalled us saying he would study the documents and respond, without ever responding.
Just as in Paruthitivu, the situation is likewise at Eluvaitivu with the 760 persons there making up 160 families. We searched the most senior person there. We found Yesudas who had worked in the fishing industry for over 60 years. He spends over 90% of his time on fisheries. He said that even in the worst year of the war he did not face such hardships. He added, “I am 76 years old now. I began going to sea at the age of 16. But now for 3 years I have desisted from going out to sea and, working with my children, occupy myself in the selection and repair of fishing nets, and the berthing of returning boats.”
At present a weekly quota of 30-40 litres of kerosene is obtained. However, this is the crab harvesting season. This kerosene is enough only for 2 days. The price of kerosene is Rs. 380 per litre.
Two workers need to go on a trip. Twenty litres of kerosese oil are required for a day. It takes additionally the use of a boat engine and nets worth several lakhs of rupees, and results in a catch of under 40 kg. It is widely belied that the price would be forced down soon to Rs. 1900/kg.
“Not in Srimavo’s hardship time around 1974, nor during the 1983 race riots did we face such challenges to living. Indeed, not even during the war years from 1990 to 2006,” said the fishermen we met. “Today a kg of flour is Rs. 430, a 400 g pkt of anchor milk is Rs. 1200. But the price of the crabs we catch is controlled down by big merchants in charge of exports,” Some fishermen, visibly in penury, begged me for flour for themselves and an anchor packet for the children. Lamented a fisherman, “In these circumstances we who live on these islands face the stark challenge of obtaining fuel at reasonable prices in sufficient quantity to make fishing a worthwhile livelihood.”
Having documented the situation I returned toward Kayts that evening at 6:00 pm. I spoke to a resident of Jaffna about his observations. His response is this:
“We should be very wary of Chinese forays in Jaffna when our natural affinity should be to our democratic neighbour to our north who has helped Sri Lanka ease our forex crisis. Despite her problems, her trajectory is positive and we should always be friends with her. We have so much in common. Here we have an Executive President who is unable to rein in his Minister who is behind these illegal operations to make money when the local people just do not want the Chinese farm. If the government really, desperately, wants the dollars, and is truly democratic, our Executive President should facilitate the local fishermen to do these Cucumber Farms independently and by themselves, free of the Chinese.”