Sri Lankan fisherfolk backed by Catholic priests and nuns are pressing ahead with protests against a multi-billion dollar port development amid worsening erosion allegedly caused by dredging. A Nov. 26 demonstration heard that dredging of sand
for the Chinese dominated mega-project continues to violate environmental regulations. The gathering was in Negomo, on Sri Lanka’s west coast about 35 kilometers from the capital, Colombo. The area being impacted is dotted with centuries’ old fishing communities. The anti-project rally and an accompanying march also marked Word Fisheries Day, which officially fell on Nov. 21. Complaints were voiced that several million dollars provided for so-called fishermen’s "support programs" by government authorities
on behalf of the project was an attempt to split communities and stifle opposition. Aruna Roshantha, a fishermen’s trade union leader, said loans and other benefits under the program were accompanied by pressure on critics to stop complaining about environmental damage. Roshantha said that the result of a villager removing a small amount of beach sand in plastic containers was a fine of a few hundred dollars. But he noted that the Chinese developers are dredging 70 million cubic meters of sand for their project. “The result is no fish and no livelihood for fishermen,” Roshantha said. The developers reject the claimed impact on fish stocks, citing an investigation carried out by the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency. They said this research showed there were no fish breeding grounds, including coral reefs, in the areas being dredged. The protest gathering
at Negombo included fisherwomen, clergy, environmentalists, human rights activists and civil society groups. Fishermen fear their coastal catches of mainly small fish will be drastically reduced.
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Villagers rely on small fish as an affordable protein source as larger deep-water fish are mostly exported to Europe and elsewhere. They fear that in future they will have to rely on cheap, low-quality tinned fish. Opponents of the project also link the sand mining to coastal erosion. According to fishermen around Negombo, the sea has inundated approximately 20 meters of land, resulting in two fishermen's houses being completely washed away and another seriously damaged. A piggery and small poultry farm had also been washed away, they said. Campaigners against the port believe the erosion is directly linked to the on-going dredging. Catholic rights’ activist Sister Noel Christine Fernando said destruction of the coastal environment had become clearly visible. She noted that women are emerging as the backbone of the anti-port project campaign.