Keeping Fishermen Afloat After the Tsunami

Initiative Hopes to Rebuild Local Economies

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, JAN. 19, 2005 ( The Apostleship of the Sea, aiming to help the tsunami-traumatized fishing communities of southern India and Sri Lanka, has launched a campaign to encourage the purchase of fish.

The initiative is in response to the fall in the price of fish since Dec. 26, when the tsunami struck the coasts of countries of the Indian Ocean, killing more than 175,000 people and destroying the means of subsistence of countless families.

The campaign is also countering the fear of millions of consumers that the fish in the area are contaminated.

Directed by the Apostleship of the Sea and reported by the information service of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, the campaign hopes to dissipate these fears, as they are groundless, and to encourage the purchase of fish as the best way to help peoples affected by the tsunami.

In an e-mail promoting the campaign, Father Xavier Pinto, coordinator of the Apostleship of the Sea in Southeast Asia, said: «If you have stopped eating fish these days, maybe you need not contribute to any Tsunami Fund at all.»

«If you don’t eat fish because of fear of contamination, you may be in the category of those who are building up forces for an economic ‘tsunami’ that will lead to their condemnation and slow death,» he warned.

The priest assailed rumors among consumers about dead fish on the shores of other countries. Such false reports are «detrimental to the very livelihood of the people you wish to reach out to,» the e-mail stresses.

Father Pinto emphasized that the dead fish in the coasts of other countries do not affect the fish being sold in India and Sri Lanka. Moreover, the fish that are coming to market now are not from the tsunami-affected areas, because no serious fishing activities have taken place in the affected areas of the two countries over the past two weeks.

Fishing communities in other areas, such as Karnataka and Maharashtra, have also been hit by the price crash, although these areas have not been directly affected by the tsunami, the e-mail continued.

Father Pinto said that some reports about fish devouring human corpses was foolish, as only three non-edible varieties of fish — scavenger fish, killer whales and killer sharks — feed on alien or human flesh.

These fish «are not sold in the markets and do not reach your table,» he stressed.

The Holy See has convoked a meeting of the Apostleship of the Sea in Rome at the end of January to help the fishermen, who are among the most affected by the tsunami, as they have lost their homes and means of livelihood.

The Apostleship of the Sea is an international Catholic organization for the moral, social and spiritual welfare of seafarers and those involved in the maritime industry.

Among the initiatives to help Asian fishermen, the Salesians’ International Volunteer Movement for Development has allocated funds to «rebuild normality.»

In this line, the first goal envisioned in Sri Lanka is a «fisherman’s kit» to enable a family of fishermen, averaging six to eight people, to have a place to live and to begin to earn their living again.

The «kit» costs about 10,000 euros ($13,000) and includes a boat with an outboard motor, fishing nets, a small brick-built house with a corrugated iron roof, household equipment, and material for work and school.

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