Priest calls to boost aid for Sri Lankan fishermen
May 03 2010
"Come and learn about the constant problems faced by the fishing community," said Father Cyril Gamini, in an invitation to politicians to help and develop the fishing industry. "They have thousands of problems."
Father Gamini was speaking at an International Worker's Day celebration in Kotuwa Pittaniya near the town of Negombo on May 1, which is also the feast day of St.Joseph.
The event was attended by Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, Cabinet Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development, Rajitha Senaratne, Catholic Minister, Sarath Gunaratne, various other government officials as well as 2000 fishermen, priests and nuns.
Father Gamini, who is Episcopal vicar for the southern region said he has been appealing to ministers and officials to meet the fishermen for months. "We the church are ready to help them," he said
The fishermen of Negombo live in small Catholic villages. Most of them small-scale fishermen rely on their knowledge of the seasons for their livelihood, using small boats, catamarans, or outrigger canoes carved out of tree trunks. They say most government assistance goes to big companies.
"There's been no infrastructure development for many years. Some days we don't catch any fish at all," says Anthony Fernando who dropped out of school and became a full-time fisherman at 16. "Our families face a constant struggle to survive," he said.
The fisherman said the building of hotels and restaurants for the tourist industry has restricted their access to the sea especially since they cannot put in and unload their catches at big ports.
"We are very unhappy and discouraged in our job," Fernando told UCA News.
Fernando is the sole provider for his family of nine. He is facing number of other problems, too, such as less government welfare and the high cost of fishing equipment. He says the government gives less priority to the fishing industry, compared with other sectors.
"All we are asking from the government is to protect our sea, lagoon, fish and waters," said Samantha Peiris who also attended the May Day gathering.
The church, which has formed a Fisheries Corporation with the help of Father Lester Nonis said it has submitted a proposed development plan for the fishing industry.
The plan includes increasing aid, reducing some of the restrictions being imposed on the fishermen, and reducing prices on fishing equipment.
Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development, Rajitha Senaratne promised to work with the church in trying to alleviate fisherman's problems and consider the proposed plan.
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