Sri Lanka has 1,620 kilometers of coastline and exclusive rights to fish, drill and conduct other economic activities in a 517,000-square-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the Indian Ocean. However, this does not mean that there are limitless fish resources waiting to be harvested. In fact, an important portion of the fisheries harvested by more than 50,000 Sri Lankan fishing vessels are already overfished and require rebuilding. Catches are declining; so, increasing the boat and gear capacity would only lead to more degradation.
Supporting sustainable fisheries
Take the case of the Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna, a significant contributor to Sri Lanka’s export revenues. However, yellowfin tuna is overfished so harvest cannot be increased. The recovery of the yellowfin tuna will require concerted action by all the countries that harvest it, and Sri Lanka can and should exercise leadership to make this happen. Data-based and participatory fishery management plans are key to maintain the health of coastal fish stocks.
Improved management offers opportunities for increasing revenues from capture fisheries and create skilled jobs, while complying with the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission yellowfin tuna rebuilding plan, which calls for reduced catch. “This approach is also in line with the World Bank’s green, resilient, and inclusive development framework for recovery from the ill effects of the COVID 19 pandemic.” says Faris Hadad-Zervos, World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Currently, about half of the tuna catch is spoiled even before making it to shore due to lack of proper refrigeration on most of Sri Lanka’s nearly 5,000 “multiday” boats that commonly spend 5 weeks at sea. As a result, only a small fraction of tuna landings meets export-quality standards. Reducing spoilage could significantly increase export revenues. This could be achieved through a combination of fleet modernization improved handling of fish, and enhanced logistical arrangements to reduce time spent at sea, without increasing the overall catch.