Sri Lankan Stilt Fishing


Sri Lanka is a tropical island situated close to the southern tip of India. It is situated in the middle of Indian Ocean. Because of being an island, Sri Lanka has many endemic freshwater fauna, as well as thousands of marine and brackish water fauna. The main occupation of most of the people along coastal areas of the country is fishing industry. So, the marine fish fauna gives a greater commercial value to the country’s economy, as well as  the coastal people.

Marine fish are strictly different from freshwater counterparts due to high salinity of sea water, which they live. Also, they are larger than most freshwater species and rich in proteins.

There are about 100+ species of common commercial fish around the country. Crustaceans such as, crabslobstersprawns, and squidscuttlefish, and sea cucumbers also added to this list instead of fish types due to their high value commercially.

Stilt Fishing is a traditional fishing method in Sri Lanka

Stilt Fishing is one of the most interesting traditional fishing methods of Sri Lanka. Records indicate that it came into being just after World War II. This mode of fishing was more widely used all along the coast until the tsunami in 2004 which caused such activities to cease temporarily until recent years. The beautiful sight of fishermen perched branched poles as they fish skillfully during dawn, noon and dusk; can now be commonly along the southern coast in towns such as Koggala, Kaththaluwa and Ahangama. Occasional stilt fishermen can also be seen amongst the waters of Madu River, etc.

Though stilt fishermen make the activity seem easy and comfortable; stilt fishing requires much skill and balance. A vertical pole with an attached crossbar is embedded into the sea floor among the shallows, or on a riverbed. The crossbar allows the fishermen to be seated a couple of meters above the water causing minimal shadows on the water and hence little to no disturbance amongst the sea life. The stilt fishermen then use a rod from this precarious position to bring in a good catch of spotted herrings and small mackerels from the comparative shallows of the sea or from the river. They collect the catch in a bag tied to the pole or to their waist.

Those who wish to learn more about stilt fishing should book a tour to Mirissa beach, Hikkaduwa Beach or Unawatuna Beach. Some of the fishermen are quite happy to show how they fish, and speak about their lives. There are also opportunities to try the activity if interested; not to mention the breathtaking photographic views provided by the fishermen silhouetted against the horizon at dawn and dusk.

Sri Lanka has exclusive fishing and economic rights for an ocean area of 500,000 square kilometres and a coastal line of 1700 km in addition to inland water bodies, which makes fishery to be one of the promising industries in the country.

Yet many aspects including a three-decade long war, over exploitation and lack of coastal and ocean security, as well as poor understanding of sustainable fishing methods, saw the downfall of a promising industry abundant of resources.

However the year 2017 saw a series of changes in the local and global environment, which can make a positive impact on the Sri Lankan fishery industry in the long run.
The industry, which was seeing a change of fortune since the end of the civil war and the revival of the fishing industry in the Eastern and Northern regions of Sri Lanka received a power boost with the reinstatement of GSP Plus from the European Union (EU).

On May 19, 2017, the EU granted better access to its market for exports under GSP +. While the reinstatement was a conditional move, it can boost exports of apparel, seafood and plastic and rubber products to the EU, Sri Lanka’s largest export market.

With the introduction of tariff lift the exports of Fish and crustaceans to EU were expected to grow by a 32% or 30 million. Based in the coastal areas surrounding the country the fishing and fisheries processing industries in Sri Lanka attracts many workers who have been unemployed and displaced by the war, tsunami and other social and economic factors.

With a total of 52 government approved fishing and processing facilities spread across the country, out of which 33 have been approved by the European Union as per their safety, sustainable fishing and safe food processing practices, Sri Lankan fishing industry can expect a better future in exporting seafood and seafood based products to the EU.

The Sri Lankan Tuna and Billfish Fishery Improvement Project plan proposed by the Seafood Exporters’ Association of Sri Lanka (SLSEA) for the years 2017/18 too will concentrate on the improvement of the country’s longline fishing fleet used for tuna and billfish fishing, two types of fish which has a larger market in EU and Eastern Asia.




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