Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More
India and Sri Lanka’s violent fight over fish

India and Sri Lanka’s violent fight over fish

I’m here in one of the weirdest pieces
of land I’ve ever been flying my drone over the Indian Ocean. There’s a battle
going on out here. It’s not a battle for land or for people. This is a battle
about fish. One fishermen was killed and five others injured after Sri Lankan
Navy opened fire near an island off the Tamil Nadu coast. On one side you have
Sri Lankan fishermen in these coastal villages, where fishing is the economic
lifeblood. And on the other side you have their counterparts Indian fishermen in
these villages along the southeastern coast of India. On a clear day you can see across this strait, it’s only 20 kilometers or so.
And out here on the water there’s an invisible line that marks where India’s
territorial waters end and where Sri Lanka’s begin. Underneath this border
there’s treasure — not gold, but seafood. The communities on either side of this
strait used to be friends, but now they’re locked in conflict. One side has
bigger, faster boats. The other side has a well-armed Navy equipped with war boats
that they’re using to patrol this border. This is the fish war between India and Sri Lanka. This is Rama’s bridge. You look across, you
can see Sri Lanka. One legend goes that the Hindu god Rama hired an army of
monkey men to build a bridge from India to Sri Lanka, so that he could go in and
rescue his wife from a demon king. Geology suggests that there indeed may
have been a walkable land bridge here, until a few thousand years ago when it
was eroded back into the sea, erasing any land border between modern-day India and
Sri Lanka. The only border that exists now between India and Sri Lanka is in
the water. It was decided on in the ’70s and it looks like this. This border made
it officially illegal for fishermen from either side to cross over into each
other’s waters to fish and it was the start of what would eventually turn into
a violent conflict. “The injured fishermen have been admitted to a hospital in
Rameswaram.” In the 1960s India, was facing a financial crisis and in
response, the government was looking for new ways to stimulate the economy. So
they turned to seafood exports like prawns. The Indian government gave
subsidies to fishermen to buy new boats so that they could harvest a huge number
of prawns, which would feed demand all over the world. So Indian fishermen in
this town of Rameswaram cashed in on the opportunity, dramatically ramping up
their fishing activities with these new boat is called trawlers which are able
to drop nets with heavy weights on them to rake the bottom of the seabed in
search for prawns and other seafood. It’s an incredibly effective method for
harvesting fish and shrimp, but these heavy metal weights rip up the seabed,
damaging the sea floor’s ecosystem and this method if uncontrolled depletes
fish supplies very quickly. The Indian fishermen quickly adopted these new
boats and soon there were thousands of these trawlers. Armed with their new boats and tied to
international demand, the Indian fishermen aggressively fished these
waters, tearing up the seafloor and depleting much of their fisheries. By the
late 1970s, the Indian fishermen needed new waters to fish. This water border had
recently been agreed upon by the two countries, but even still the Indian
fishermen began moving across it illegally fishing in Sri Lankan waters.
The massive amount of fishing contributed to an explosion in seafood
exports from India. While India was cashing in on seafood products from Sri
Lankan waters, Sri Lanka was descending into war. By the early 1980s, armed rebels
were taking over large swaths of land in the north of the country, trying to
create a new country for the oppressed Tamil people, the ethnic minority group
that the residents of these fishing villages identify with. “And every day
they take an oath pledging to sacrifice their mind body and soul for Tamil Eelam,
a separate state for a separate people.” It descended into a violent, long-lasting
civil war that would result in over 150,000 deaths and
these fishing villages in Sri Lanka were caught right in the middle of it. As a security precaution during the war
the Sri Lankan Navy started setting up security zones in much of the water,
banning most fishing activities and prohibiting boats with motors. “Beaches once crammed with foreign tourists are now patrolled by the
watchful military.” All of this was done in an attempt to weaken the Tamil rebels,
but the result was a severe gutting of the economies here, which are totally
reliant on fish. The catch in these districts declined immensely during the
war and not only did this affect the economies, but this fishing ban left Sri
Lankan waters open for Indian trawlers to fish freely. The violent civil war
and the fishing ban in Sri Lanka dragged on through the ’90s and into the early
2000’s, allowing the Indian fishermen to illegally fish these waters with little
repercussion. But then everything changed. “Tamil Tiger fighters retreat from their
last stand. For now the fighting seems to be over.”
The war ended and the security zones in the water were lifted. Sri Lankans could
fish freely again, breathing new life into an economy that runs on fish. But as
these fishermen went out on their boats what they found were fleets of Indian
trawlers in their waters, tearing up the sea floor, illegally digging for seafood
treasure. And these Sri Lankan fishermen coming out of a fishing ban and a 25 year
civil war, had much smaller weaker boats. They could never compete. This is where things really start to heat up. Sri Lankan Navy, which had previously been
fighting a war, now turned its efforts towards cracking down on Indian
fishermen that were poaching in Sri Lankan waters. The fish wars had begun. “Naval Command arrested four Indian fishing poachers in Sri Lanka territorial waters.” “There are mass protests against the killing of this fisherman.” The Sri Lankan Navy came down hard, routinely arresting Indian fishermen and detaining
them, sometimes for years. Many of the fishermen that I talked to while I was
in India routinely go poaching across the border and many of them said that
they had been caught by the Navy. When the Navy detains the fishermen, they
also take their boats. They eventually released the fishermen, but the boats
remain impounded in navy bases around the country. Across the strait, this
poaching by Indian fishermen has had deep ramifications in these villages. Experts estimate that the direct
monetary loss to Sri Lankan fishermen due to Indian poaching is anywhere from
16 to 56 million US dollars per year. This conflict over seafood has turned two
Tamil communities, once allies, into enemies. The Indian government has done little to
resolve this conflict. They occasionally step in to free a group of detained
fishermen, but none of their actions have led to a concrete solution to the
conflict. The Indian government, both national and
local, seems to be turning a blind eye to these fishermen’s practice of crossing
the border. That’s because these communities are already neglected and
underserved by their faraway government. Stopping a practice that has bolstered
their economy for years would create more disdain and frustration among the
people. So not much is likely to change anytime
soon and as the Navy and the fishermen continue to spar in these waters, the
real losers in this situation continue to be these communities over here. The people here were barred from fishing during the
decades-long civil war and now they have no chance of competing with their Indian
neighbors, who have spent decades destroying their sea beds and stealing
their fish. This was one of the most interesting places I had ever been, going to Sri Lanka and the southern coast of India. Got to see these really interesting places, but also seeing how important fish are to these economies. But India and Sri Lanka aren’t the only places that are affected by the increasing demand for fish. There are a lot of different places around the world who are dealing with similar issues. And if you want to learn more about this issue and how it plays out in other countries, you should check out a documentary series called “Super Fish” from CuriosityStream. CuriosityStream is a subscription streaming service that allows you to browse a huge repository of documentaries and nonfiction films from some of the world’s best filmmakers. You can get unlimited access to CuriosityStream starting at $2.99 a month, but because you’re a Borders fan, you can go to and enter the promo code “borders” and you’ll get the first 31 days for free. CuriosityStream does not influence our editorial process or the videos we make, but they do support us and they do make videos like this possible, so thank you CuriosityStream. And stay tuned for more Borders.

100 comments on “India and Sri Lanka’s violent fight over fish

  1. Hey everyone, I hope you liked this third episode of Borders India. Two more to go! BTW the idea for this video came from the locals in India. I asked for story ideas and many of you told me to look into this issue. So thank you to everyone who suggested it! I would have never stumbled upon this otherwise.
    Also, If you want to help me make Vox Borders bigger and better, check out the Video Lab:
    See you next week!

  2. I’m curious as to why the Sri Lankan government doesn’t sell or give the confiscated Indian boats (trawlers) to the local fisherman.

  3. Why can’t Sri Lanka just fish on the southern side of their country just so you know I’m not from India or Sri Lanka I’m just saying

  4. As an Indian i feel ,Indian fishermen are wrong here….. If the Indian government starts looking into this issue then both the indian tamils and sri lankan tamils will be benefitted….

  5. Not a word from govt. on this…….not even main stream media…….i can understand for TRP's only muslim/hindu game will work.

  6. India is the most problematic state having violated line of controls with all neighbors including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, China and Bangladesh

  7. This spot is not the only 1.. indian fisherman enter Pakistani waters on daily basis .. and indian army in Kashmiri areas. Indian are The most Greedy nation after Israeli

  8. Fun fact: India ocean is only meant for Indians our government is kind that they gave this ocean part to Sri Lanka but still Sri Lankan is land of monsters

  9. Makes me happy that I don't eat seafood. I'm also not contributing to conflicts around the world b/c I don't buy much of anything! The GOP have destroyed the US, stealing and not paying taxes, destroying the middle class Gen X-ers. And they wonder why we didn't have that many kids.

  10. Most of the comments are saying that I am Indian we are sorry for crossing the same. But you guys haven't know the history and the media also says as Tamil fishermen, not the Indian fishermen so how comes the equality? Katchatheevu a small island used by both country fishermen happily before the interference of any political parties. But in 1974 the Indian government without asking opinion from Tamil Nadu people they have given this island to Srilanka. After that, the conflict started there is no place to anchor the boat in the middle of the sea than this single island. Where the fishermen will go and take someplace to rest?. Now both of the countries politicians are playing with this dispute not trying to solve any problems (same as like Jammu and Kashmir problem). If you want to know the real problem (irrespective of the country) you have to be there with the people, live with them and then only you can understand. Commenting that we're this countrymate we sorry for their madness doesn't make any sense. Be educated and matured enough to post the comments and share your views.

  11. Very nice documentary. Indian media and the central government has always been only caring about its borders in the north and the people of the north while the prosperous, hard working South is just a cash ( tax) cow of income for them.

  12. This shows how goverment and media negligence creates chaos between two peaceful nations. I stand with the fishermen community and hope that they are given proper education and facilities. Indian media never shows this things. This is bad. Love to Sri lankan brothers fron India.

  13. So India overfished their water and ripped up their sea beds and now they want to steal what’s not theirs. The UN should be protect SriLanka. India should have to pay restitution for the illegal poaching to the fishing families. And charged to restore the sea bed and restock the area. They knew they were poaching.

  14. I still don't know that how people recognize the ocean border line… that is yours and this is mine…
    Every country should draw high spike wire line in their ocean…lol..

  15. We really need to fish in our own waters…. Not get into Sri Lanka. We're India, not China… I hate that we are doing this, looting the resources of our smaller neighbor nation.

  16. totally agree with this video. the Dravidian politicians encourage this type of fishing cos its a win-win situation for them. As long as business is booming they make money (considering most of those boats are owned by politicians who hire ignorant locals to operate the boat) and when fisher men get killed by Sri Lankan navy they blame it on central government to support their fear mongering that Tamil Nadu is loosing its identity.
    I hope those captured fishing boats are given to the Sri Lankan fisher men rather than just sitting on some impound lot.

  17. I wouldn't like to create political dialogue between Pakistan and india but one things is same most of indian fishermen crossed border line with Pakistan and hundreds of them were caught regularly so we should need to respects everyone territory borderline

  18. i was in sri lanka and i had fish with green bones. it tasted as great as everything there, but it was a bit irritating. best food ever!

  19. Idk what the Indian dude complaining about. My guy it's not your area, u legit have no right to complain about anything.

  20. We apologise to SriLankan Fishermen for what happens here.this has been used by politicians to win votes here and spoil relations with your Country we are sorry.

  21. I'm on sri lanka's side india is taking all the fish, ripping up the sea floor, and fishing not in there waters.

  22. thats the land where my Ram and Ravan had lived . the greed of both side is killing Samudra raha. itll be a pay back for greedy humans here or there.

  23. If you stole from other seas than the arresting and taking there boats are the least thing they should worry about

  24. I am from India.
    I understand its a life source but I am also concerned about the damage done to the sea bed.
    I do not really know what the solution is but there might be a point where there might be nothing left in that region to fish.

  25. India always tries to create problem in neighboring counties. They supported Sri Lankan Tamil tiger for 30 years against Sri Lanka. They are now supporting terrorism in Pakistan and recently International Court confirmed Indian terrorism in Pakistan. More than 20 days passed still a curfew in Indian Occupied Kashmir. Dear Indian, please focus on your country. Don't poke into other matters.

  26. waoo wat a channel u do it practically and provide true n pure information lov frm India subscribed

  27. Nice to see Indians accept their mistake on the comments. Meanwhile, when Pakistanis bomb Mumbai, no apologies from them

  28. I am an Indian and support Sri Lanka on this. India is huge, Sri Lanka a small island and have limited sources of income. No one is stopping India from fishing but do it in your waters. You hit back when China and Pakistan try to get into your borders, same goes with the Lankans, they have every right to respond. Stop entering their water and live in peace.

    EDIT:- On a serious note, who slapped that poor fisherman at 8:12 and sent him spinning for a week?.

  29. What is wrong with Indians? They’re trying to take over crossing borders countries around them. In north, they’re taking Nepal’s land, in west we all know about Kashmir and in south they’re even after sea borders! Yes their large land is useless but that doesn’t mean you take over other borders.

  30. It's the Indian gov's fault, for failing to provide its coastal citizens sufficient means to earn a living. The "fish thieves" need alternative employments to provide for their families so they don't have to be in conflict with the Sri Lankans in order to survive.

  31. Well hopefully global warming will drow both sides and they will be forced out of their homes. There, problem solved.

  32. I’ve noticed India is not on good terms with anyone in the world. They are genuinely horrible people. Greedy for money and profit. That’s all

  33. Don't think only Shri Lanka the people in india they r not so educated so they also have only one job & that's fisherman. This happen in every country with different situation this is not a new thing ur making it hype….

  34. Indians fishermen are always been Thief. They always tried to steal others fish. Now a days they are trying to steal our fish from the Bay of Bengal. But they don’t know us (Bangladeshi). If the Thieves continues to enter our border we will retreat them without mercy. So be careful

  35. If you investigate more you may find that the unrest in sri lanka was created so that india would benefit from the situation.

  36. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are same nation by King Vijay. Indian Fishermen in Bangladesh sea are saved by Bangladesh Navy, the result is Indian BSF shot dead Bangladeshi people in Border. Sri Lanka shares the same Bengali DNA and just they have good Government we don't. Thank you Sri Lanka..

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