UCA News

Sri Lanka

Shrimp farming could mean an end to fishermen's livelihoods

March of modernity's fatal threat to Sri Lankan mangroves

ucanews.com reporter, Negombo

ucanews.com reporter, Negombo

Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Support Asia's largest network of Catholic journalists and editors
Shrimp farming could mean an end to fishermen's livelihoods
A traditional fisherman in Negombo Lagoon
Share this article :
Alexander Canicius Pererahas has relied on mangrove forests to feed his family for decades, but as Sri Lanka struggles to modernize and develop, he sees his way of life and that of thousands of other traditional fishermen at a crossroads.

“Livelihoods of local fishermen are at serious risk because of an obvious deterioration in their catches,” said Perera, 45, a father of two and a traditional fisherman from Negombo, 40km north of Colombo.

“This has been due to a rapid decline in mangrove ecosystems as a result of factors such as the growth in the number of shrimp farms,” the mangrove activist said.

Mangroves are trees and shrubs that grow in coastal saline habitats. They have dense root systems that act as a barrier against floods and waves and can retain sludge and sediment. At least 20 varieties, or 37 percent of what are called the world’s true mangroves, can be found in Sri Lanka.

They make a perfect habitat for marine life and have provided a source of living for small fishermen who do not have the means to fish out at sea in trawlers or mechanized boats for generations.

“Mangroves are an ideal breeding ground for fish, prawns and crabs. However, politicians and businessmen who lack any interest in conservation are destroying mangrove forests for profit,” Perera said.

More than 50,000 people from villages dotted along Negombo Lagoon make a living from mangrove forests and are under threat, he warned.

They are not alone; fishermen across the country are feeling the effects of disappearing mangroves as more and more shrimp farms take their place.

“In Puttalam district, in the northwest of the country, 3,000 hectares of mangrove were turned into industrial shrimp farms. Two-thirds of the 28,000 fishermen working in the area lost their livelihoods," said Sanjeewa Chamikara, a well known environmentalist and director of the Environmental Conservation Trust.

“At least 80 percent of the country’s mangrove cover has been destroyed for shrimp farms and other development activities,” he said.

Shrimp exports are one of Sri Lanka’s major foreign exchange earners, and account for up to 50 percent of the country’s total aquaculture exports.

Shrimp farm owners say they provide stable employment and make a vital contribution to the country’s economy.

"There are nearly 183 farms in our area covering 340 hectares and providing jobs for over 1,000 people. We can generate a total profit of over US$12,246 each harvest from one hectare," said W Peter Fernando, a shrimp farmer from Chilaw, 80 km North West of Colombo.

Despite the bumper revenues shrimp farmers can generate, the government admits the loss of mangrove forests is worrying.

According to the Department of Wildlife Conservation, mangrove cover in Sri Lanka has almost halved from 11,500 hectares to 6,000 hectares since 1994.

It says it has adopted measures to protect mangrove areas in national parks and nature reserves. But environmentalists say the government needs to do more, since only 40 percent of Sri Lanka’s mangrove forests are protected.

DT Rupasigha, an area engineer from the Coastal Conservation Department, agrees, adding that protection laws need to be tougher against developers and shrimp farmers who encroach in protected areas.

“Laws are not rigid enough, but whenever we get a complaint we take legal action against the culprits. Recently, we handed over one such person to a court and he was only fined 10,000 rupees [US$79]" Rupasigha said.

The fishermen, however, are the ones who lose out most, says Christopher Dariju, chairman of a Negombo Lagoon committee.

“There are no places to replant mangroves. If our lagoons become marine deserts, fishermen will die, as they know of nothing else to do.”

Support UCA News...

As 2020 unfolds, we are asking readers like you to help us keep Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) free so it can be accessed from anywhere in the world at no cost.

That has been our policy for years and was made possible by donations from European Catholic funding agencies. However, like the Church in Europe, these agencies are in decline and the immediate and urgent claims on their funds for humanitarian emergencies in Africa and parts of Asia mean there is much less to distribute than there was even a decade ago.

Forty years ago, when UCA News was founded, Asia was a very different place - many poor and underdeveloped countries with large populations to feed, political instability and economies too often poised on the edge of collapse. Today, Asia is the economic engine room of the world and funding agencies quite rightly look to UCA News to do more to fund itself.

UCA News has a unique product developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes. Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to - South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.

And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters that cover 22 countries and experienced native English-speaking editors to render stories that are informative, informed and perceptive.

We report from the ground where other news services simply can't or won't go. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don't have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.

With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.

Click here to find out the ways you can support UCA News. You can make a difference for as little as US$5...
UCAN Donate
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter

Related News

Support UCA News

William J. Grimm, MM


Union of Catholic Asian News

"As Pope Francis has said, we live not so much in an era of change as in a change of era. That is especially true in Asia and for the churches of Asia. UCA News is the dedicated, Asia-wide news and information service for the Church in Asia and we need your help to maintain the service."