After holding ministerial level talks on Saturday, the governments of India and Sri Lanka have agreed to set up a hotline between the coast guards and a Joint Working Group (JWG) on fisheries to meet every three months in a bid to address the long pending fishermen issue. Both countries also agreed to hold a meeting between the Ministers for Fisheries every six months, according to a statement released by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Radha Mohan Singh met with the Sri Lankan Minister for Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera and Minister for Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Mahinda Amaraweera. The ministers exchanged views on possible mechanisms to help find a permanent solution to the fishermen issues after which they agreed on the setting up of a JWG.
The delegations for the group would include representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, the Coast Guards and Navies of both countries. The first ministerial meeting would be held on January 2, 2017 in Colombo.
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The Terms of Reference for the JWG would include expediting the transition towards ending the practice of bottom trawling at the earliest, working out the modalities for the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for handing over of apprehended fishermen and ascertaining possibilities for cooperation on patrolling.
The issue of the release of detained fishing vessels will be discussed at the first JWG meeting. Both governments also agreed to the request by the Fishermen Associations that there should be no violence and no loss of life in the handling of fishermen by the Navies and Coast Guards of the two countries.
They agreed to encourage fishermen associations of the two countries to meet every six months to take further their dialogue from the inconclusive meeting held on November 2 in New Delhi. The ministers noted that the process is underway for the release of fishermen presently in custody on either side.