ANGULANA, SRI LANKA – Little children play on the beach in Angulana, a fishing village in Sri Lanka’s Colombo district. The smell of fish hangs in the air, and the ocean sends a breeze across the shore.
Jayasiri Peiris, 39, has carried on his family tradition of being a fisherman. But he says it’s tough to raise a family on a fisherman’s wage.
“My father had been fishing for the past 50 years,” he says. “All those years he was able to make a living to feed in day to day only. He was never able to save anything for the future.”
Peiris says he was able to study only up to grade seven because he had to help his father sell the fish he caught. He continued working as a fisherman, and, after some time, he was able to purchase a small boat. He says he hopes he can eventually afford an out boat, a boat with an engine.
“My desire is to purchase an out boat after obtaining a loan,” he says with a dreamy look in his eyes.
But he says there is no place here where he can obtain a loan with affordable payment options.
But that isn’t the only challenge facing local fishermen. Peiris says that he and the other fishermen don’t have a place to secure their boats or fishing nets at night. Sometimes the sea is rough, so he can’t go fishing. He says he also doesn’t own any nets that can hold large fish.
A few months ago, Peiris suffered a leg injury, which crippled him. Now he can’t fish on his own but can only help his brothers. The sole source of income now comes from the string hoppers, or rice noodles, that his wife makes and sells.
He has five children, four daughters and a son, to support. He says his one daughter has musical talent, but he has no means to give her the lessons she needs.
Fishermen say they can’t earn a living in the fishing industry – the traditional livelihood in coastal villages in Sri Lanka – making it difficult to lift their families out of poverty. The government and nongovernmental organizations, NGOs, have implemented various policies and programs to promote the fishing industry and assist fishermen. But officials admit more needs to be done and identify many challenges in the development of the fishing industry.
The fishing industry contributes about 70 percent of all animal protein consumed in the country, according to the Department of Census and Statistics. Fish production increased by more than 13 percent in 2010, according to 2010 statistics from the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development.
Fishing has been the most important economic activity in the country’s coastal areas, according to the ministry. There are more than 220,000 fishermen in Sri Lanka and about 2.5 million involved in fishing and related livelihoods.
Surrounded by the Indian Ocean, Sri Lankans living on the coast of the island country have made their living