STORY: After three grueling weeks at sea, Sri Lankan fishermen count their catch at the docks of Negombo, a tight-knit fishing community on the west coast of the island nation.
But the numbers don’t look too good for Anton Fernando, 44, and he fears his profession is no longer earning his living.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst financial crisis since independence in 1948, and soaring prices are increasing pressure on fishermen – from the cost of fuel for their boats to food for their families.
“During the 21 days we were at sea, we earned 40,000 rupees ($123). This is not enough to cover our household expenses. is not enough to cover electricity and water bills, school fees and food.”
While fishing represents less than 2% of the Sri Lankan economy, its impact is significant: it employs a tenth of the Sri Lankan population and helps feed many more.
At a nearby beach in the Sea Street area of Negombo, GK Chaminda, a 47-year-old fisherman, says he is struggling to repay the loan he took out on his boat three years ago.
“We have real difficulties. We only eat one meal a day and groceries are also very difficult to buy, and we also don’t have powdered milk for the children. ‘other necessities, then what kind of future can we see? As for our future, we feel that we are going to starve and die, this is the situation.
The financial crisis has grounded at least half of the region’s trawler fleet, according to local officials, who predict “a life-and-death situation here over the next three to six months”.
It prompted weeks of protests just 25 miles away in the commercial capital of Colombo, where protesters demanded solutions – and the removal of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Sri Lanka’s finance minister told Reuters this month that the government’s first priority was to restore essentials such as fuel, and that it was seeking help from lenders like the International Monetary Fund to the country’s economically vulnerable populations.
Sri Lanka’s fisheries and finance ministries did not immediately respond to requests for comment on specific measures taken to help the fishing industry.