ECONOMYNEXT – Dismissing objections raised by Indian fisherman against Sri Lanka’s artificial reef project, State Minister of Fisheries Kanchana Wijesekara said India must ban the destructive practice of bottom trawling instead.
Fisherfolk in Tamil Nadu have objected to a Sri Lankan initiative to submerge discarded buses in the island’s northern waters in an effort to create an artificial reef. Twenty such buses were submerged near the Delft Island off Jaffna on June 11. The New Indian Express reported July 16 that experts in India have called the move irresponsible while fishing communities have expressed fears that the buses would drift underwater into India’s territorial waters affecting their fishing industry.
Defending the project, State Minister Wijesekara said it was the result of years of study.
“It is not irresponsible project but one that is globally proven and practiced. We don’t accept their claims or the statements they are making,” he said.
According to Wijesakara, this is the fourth phase of a project initiated about six months ago by the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to cultivate artificial reefs around Sri Lanka.
The first phase was in Trincomalee, while the second and third phases were carried out in Galle and Matara respectively. The fourth phase, this time in the country’s northern waters, is ongoing.
Marine research in Sri Lanka is carried out by the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA), which is currently dealing with the aftermath of the X-Press Pearl shipping disaster, one of Sri Lanka’s worst ecological disasters in history.
“For about two to three years, NARA and the Department of Fisheries have been studying how we can develop artificial reefs for fish spawning. That is the main idea behind this project. Similar projects have been done all over the world, even in developed countries. Sri Lanka is the first country in the region to do it,” said Wijesekara.
“We did a couple of underwater museum galleries as well,” he added.
Responding to claims made by the Indian fishermen and experts, the minister said they’re probably baseless, as artificial reef building has been tried globally.
Marine conservationists worldwide have, indeed, attempted to construct artificial reefs with varying degrees of success. Large steel structures such as shipwrecks are considered suitable, while smaller unsecured structures are considered less so.
“If a scientific agency is saying this is an irresponsible move, then they probably don’t have scientific research to back it. The most irresponsible act of the Indian marine research institute is not banning bottom trawling. This is a banned and illegal practice globally which damages marine environment and reserves,” said Wijesekara.
Indian fishermen encroaching into Sri Lankan waters in the north has been a long-drawn issue, as has the alleged robbing of Sri Lanka’s marine resources thanks to bottom trawling.
Fishing vessels from South India had got into the habit of straying over the Indo-Lanka maritime border during a 30 year civil war when Sri Lanka fishermen were banned from entering the Northern waters – a practice that didn’t quite end with the war.
Wijesekara said that despite requests made on numerous occasions to stop bottom-line trawling by Indian fishermen, nothing has been done to minimise it, while Sri Lanka banned the practice entirely in 2017.
“I don’t know who these fishermen are that are objecting to [the reef project], but I assume they engage in bottom trawling. Their concern might be that the submerged vehicles would affect their fishing gear. But this is a 100% scientifically proven method; it doesn’t cause any damage to the sea bed,” he said.
“This will create more artificial fish spawning spaces and coral beds so I urge our Indian counterparts to make a move on banning bottom trawling instead and to consider its impact to the ocean,” he added.
According to US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an artificial reef is a manmade structure that may mimic some of the characteristics of a natural reef.
These are often made by submerged shipwreck, oil rigs, gas platforms and other offshore structures.
Marine resource managers also create artificial reefs in underwater areas that require a structure to enhance the habitat for reef organisms, including soft and stony corals and the fishes and invertebrates that live among them, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on its website.
Materials used to construct artificial reefs have included rocks, cinder blocks, and even wood and old tires. Nowadays, several companies specialise in the design, manufacture, and deployment of long-lasting artificial reefs that are typically constructed of limestone, steel, and concrete.
Police detain Bathiudeen’s wife, father-in-law and another suspect over domestic aide’s death
Former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen’s wife, father-in-law and another suspect have been detained for interrogation in connection with the death of the 16-year old domestic aide.
“They are being held for 72 hours for further questioning”, police said.
The suspects taken into custody were identified by police as that 46-year old Sheyabdeen Ayesha, her father 70-year-old Mohammed Sheyabdeen and the broker who brought the girl to work as a domestic aide in Bathiudeen’s house.
The victim, a resident of Dayagama Estate off Talawakelle, was admitted to the Colombo National Hospital on July 3 with severe burn injuries. She died on July 15.
Police have already recorded the statements of more than 20 persons in connection with the girl’s death.
Police have also questioned two women aged 22 and 32 from the Dayagama area, who earlier served as domestic workers at the former Minister’s house.
One of the women had claimed she was sexually harassed by Bathiudeen’s brother-in-law from 2015 to 2019 at the former Minister’s residence in Colombo.
Subsequently, police also arrested the 44-year old Sheyabdeen Ismadeen, brother-in-law of the former Minister.
Contamination fears propel Lanka Sathosa to recall Chinese-made canned fish stocks
After procurement from Colombo port for Rs. 50mn
by Suresh Perera
A substantial stock of “confiscated” canned fish Lanka Sathosa procured from the Colombo port at a cost of around Rs. 50 million has been recalled from the market following public complaints that the Chinese-manufactured products were unfit for human consumption.
The five 20-foot container loads of 425g ‘Kitchen King’ Mackerel canned fish of the Scomber japonicus species, which were lying in the Colombo port as “abandoned cargo” after forfeiture by the Customs in October last year, was purchased by Lanka Sathosa recently to be sold at a concessionary price through its chain of supermarkets.
“We have now withdrawn the whole stock from our supermarket shelves as there were customer complaints that the canned fish was not fit for consumption”, says Lanka Sathosa Chairman, Rear Admiral (Retd) Ananda Peiris.
The products were injected into the market after clearance by the Food Control Unit of the Health Ministry following quality testing by the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), he said.
“As there’s a shortage of canned fish in the marketplace, we promptly distributed the stocks to our supermarkets island-wide to be sold at Rs. 290 each. We have now asked the outlets not to sell them to customers because of the quality issue that has emerged”, the Chairman noted.
“We have no option now other than to return the consignment and seek a refund from the Ports Authority”, he said.
Onions, potatoes, lentils and other food commodities, which are either confiscated by the Customs or remain uncleared by importers, are generally procured by Lanka Sathosa to be sold at concessionary prices to customers, Peiris explained.
“In terms of a Cabinet decision, the consignments are auctioned only if we don’t procure them”.
The stock of canned fish had been forfeited as the owner had not cleared it for three months, he said.
“Lanka Sathosa appears to have opened a can of worms as the 9,200 packs of canned fish had arrived aboard a vessel, which sailed into Colombo on October 29 last year, a source knowledgeable of the operation, said.
Listing out the relevant reference and batch numbers of the consignments, the source said the Chinese products were manufactured on 09/10/2020 with a 09/10/2023 ‘expiry date’.
This means the stocks had been in the Colombo port for the past nine months, and had turned rancid despite a 2023 ‘expiry date’, the source asserted.
Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) officers had raided the Lanka Sathosa outlet at Moneragala following complaints that canned fish was being hoarded.
“We found stocks in storage, but was told by officers there that instructions were received to withhold the sale of the ‘Kitchen King’ products until they were re-labeled”, CAA’s Executive Director, Thushan Gunawardena said.
As the importer was not in favor of Lanka Sathosa marketing the products under its original brand name, a sticker was affixed to obscure it, Peiris clarified.
Under Section 10 of the Consumer Protection Act, re-labeling a product constitutes an offence, Gunawardena pointed out.
Acting on a complaint, public health inspectors have taken a sample of the canned fish from the Mawanella outlet for testing, the Lanka Sathosa chief further said.
Responding to questions raised by the CAA, the SLSI said its officers had collected samples from the five containers following requests by the Ports Authority and Lanka Sathosa.
As the original importer had not submitted any documents to the SLSI so far, the need for sample collection didn’t arise, it said.
The CAA has further queried whether the SLSI was aware of the purpose the test results were required at the time samples were received.
The SLSI has clamped down on the import of substandard canned fish with an intolerable level of arsenic, particularly from manufacturers in China.
In a news report headlined “SLSI cracks the whip on substandard Chinese canned fish imports”, The Sunday Island of March 21, 2021 quoted the institution’s Director-General, Dr. Siddhika Senaratne as saying that fish harvested for canning has a high arsenic content as the sea in China is heavily polluted and dirty due to lax environmental laws.
“It is true that there is a scarcity of canned fish in the market because supply cannot meet the demand. However, this does not mean we should allow our people to be poisoned through arsenic-laden imports”, she was quoted saying in the news report.
With the SLSI stipulating a maximum arsenic tolerance standard of 1.0 milligram per kilogram of fish, a filtering mechanism is now in place to shut out substandard imports, she assured at the time.
Asked whether the consignment of Chinese canned fish procured by Lanka Sathosa was earlier detained due to its high arsenic content, Dr. Senaratne declined comment saying she’s “not allowed to talk to the media”.
“The DG wouldn’t want to be dragged into another controversy”, an official remarked, referring to the furore over her claim of toxins in foodstuffs, which she, however, declined to identify at the time.
At a time canned fish imports from China have been off the shelves since SLSI’s rigid monitoring of tolerable arsenic levels began, industry players expressed consternation on how a stock, which had been lying in the Colombo port for months, was suddenly given the nod for procurement by Lanka Sathosa.
With the scarcity of canned fish products in the market pushing up demand, will an importer abandon his consignments unless there was something rotten somewhere?, they asked.
“It is too far-fetched to imagine that they got the documentation wrong as these importers are seasoned campaigners in the game”.
It is apparent that Lanka Sathosa had not done its homework before jumping at the idea of procuring the consignment because Chinese-made canned fish had remained virtually out of bounds for many months because of fears of contamination, they said.
Importers didn’t want to risk their investments as a high arsenic level meant the consignments were either destroyed or ordered to be re-exported, they added.
“That’s why local products now dominate the market with a brand from Thailand also no longer available”.
United States gives Sri Lanka 500,000 coronavirus rapid tests
The United States had donated 500,000 Rapid diagnostic tests to Sri Lanka worth Rs. 300 million to help the country fight Coronavirus, the US Agency for International Development said.
“By enabling rapid detection of the virus, these tests donated by the American people will save lives and protect public health in Sri Lanka,” USAID Mission Director to Sri Lanka and Maldives, Reed Aeschliman said in a statement.
“This donation builds on previous U.S. support to the Sri Lankan government’s pandemic response and reflects our strong, long-standing partnership.”
US has also given 1.5 million moderna vaccines to Sri Lanka.
The tests are simple to use and enable fast, decentralized access to direct testing. They do not require additional equipment or specialized laboratory access, which helps achieve high testing coverage.
The United States has also given of 200 ventilators to Sri Lanka’s health system.
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