New Delhi: India and Sri Lanka on Saturday agreed to hold twice a year meetings of their fisheries ministers and also to set up a joint working group that will meet every three months in a bid to find a permanent solution to the long-standing fishing disputes between the two countries.
The decisions, which also included setting up of a hotline between the coast guards of the two countries, were taken at a meeting between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her Sri Lankan counterpart Mangala Samaraweera here.
"They agreed on the setting up of a joint working group on fisheries to meet every three months and a meeting between the ministers for fisheries every six months," a Ministry of External Affairs statement said.
The delegations for the working group would include representatives from the foreign ministries, the Coast Guards and the navies of both countries.
The first ministerial meeting would be held on January 2 next year in Colombo, the statement said.
Fishing disputes have often complicated the ties between the two sides, with Sri Lanka accusing Indian fishermen of bottom trawling with mechanised boats, a destructive method of fishing that destroys the marine ecosystem, in its territorial waters.
To help prevent the arrest or death of Indian fishermen, most of whom are ethnically Tamil, the two governments in the Saturday meeting "agreed to the request by 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".
Towards this end, the statement said, the terms of reference for the working group would include ending the practice of bottom trawling at the earliest.
The group will also work out the modalities for the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for handing over of apprehended fishermen and ascertain possibilities for cooperation on patrolling.
"The issue of the release of detained fishing vessels will be discussed at the first JWG meeting," the statement said.
The meeting, also attended by Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh and Sri Lankan Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweeram also agreed to encourage the fishermen associations of the two countries to meet every six months to take further their dialogue from the meeting held on Wednesday.
The meeting comes after the talks on Wednesday between the fishermen of the two sides ended without any outcome after the Sri Lankan side adamantly refused to allow Indian fishermen, particularly mechanized trawlers, into their territorial waters.
They said their fishermen were getting back to fishing after a period of three decades of civil war in the island nation.