Sri Lanka


The Seafood Exporters’ Association of Sri Lanka (SEASL) was established in 1996 to represent and promote the interests of companies engaged in the export of seafood products from Sri Lanka.  The SEASL provides a common platform for Sri Lankan seafood companies to discuss challenges and concerns affecting seafood exports, as well as issues affecting the fisheries industry as a whole in Sri Lanka.

The SEASL acts as an important focal point for engagement between US buyers, seafood companies, fishers, raw material suppliers, and the Government of Sri Lanka. The SEASL lobbies and advises the government on policy and practices related to seafood exports, including inspection, licensing and certification of seafood products. The SEASL is also a forum for dialogue within the seafood community in Sri Lankan and between the Sri Lankan seafood sector and the international seafood community.

The SEASL’s goal is to ensure the long term economic, social and environmental sustainability of the seafood sector in Sri Lanka. To achieve this goal, the SEASL and its member organizations work in close collaboration with producers and suppliers, as well as with the agencies and authorities of the Government of Sri Lanka. The SEASL promotes and seeks to improve the sustainable exploitation and management of Sri Lanka’s marine resources.

Sri Lankan Blue Swimming Crab Market

In 2011, the blue swimming crab (Portunus pelagius) accounted for the majority of Sri Lankan crab exports. Key Sri Lankan crab products include chilled and frozen fresh crab and pasteurized crab meat (canned). Mud crabs(Scylla serrata) are exported alive or as chilled fresh crab.  Sri Lankan crab products exported to the USA accounted for 40% of the total annual export earnings from Sri Lankan crab products in 2011, worth around US$ 6 million.

The Sri Lankan BSC fishery is a coastal fishery, which operates in the relatively shallow waters of the southern tip of the Gulf of Mannar, across the Palk Straits to the southern boundary of the Bay of Bengal, is based almost exclusively on gill net fishing from small fibre reinforced plastic boats (17½ ft and 19½ ft) and traditional ‘vallams’ (23ft), powered by 15 – 25 hp outboard motors.  A much smaller fishery for BSC (and other crabs including Charybdis annulatus and Sycalla serratus) is located in the Jaffna Lagoon, due south of the Jaffna Peninsula[1]. The Jaffna Lagoon fishery relies on non mechanised traditional craft (i.e., vallams) and a variety of fishing gear including baited traps, stake nets, cone cages and trammel nets.

Sri Lanka Province Chart

Sri Lankan Blue Swimming Crab FIP

The decision by the Seafood Exporters Association of Sri Lanka (SEA SL) to initiate a Fisheries Improvement Plan (FIP) for the BSC fishery off the northwest and northern coast of Sri Lanka is a direct response to the ongoing developments in the BSC fishery including US market demands for sustainable sources of seafood, and to the demands from fishing communities, government agencies, non government and academics to maintain the social and economic benefits generated by the fishery through sustainable management of the resource.

The NFI Crab Council helped SEASL to commission an independent evaluation of the SLBSC fishery that was conducted by the consultant, Dr. Steven Creech.

Two annual stock assessments covering each of the two management units (Bay of Bengal / Gulf of Mannar) have been completed with financial and technical support form organizations including SEASL, UN-ILO, UN-IOM and NARA. NARA, the national entity for fishery science, is in the process of completing a scientific investigation of the population biology of the blue swimming crab in Sri Lanka. This will be completed by the end of March 2016. Partnership with UN ILO and IOM have focused on supporting fisher livelihoods and community led management initiatives and have included supporting community based stock assessments using a length based spawning potential (LBSP) approach. LBSP is a rapid and cost-effective stock assessment method that is intended to help fisher communities and formal fishery regulators (i.e., DFAR / NARA) manage and monitor wild-caught resources. The second annual assessment of BSC stock in each fishery were completed in February 2016. The Australian government’s Department of Aid and Trade sponsored LBSP scientists Dr. Jeremy Prince and Dr. Adrian Hordyk in 2015 to provide technical assistance to DFAR, NARA and the FIP on the LBSP approach and its application in the Sri Lankan BSC fishery.

In other fishery management initiatives between SEASL and fishermen’s cooperative societies’ unions (FCSU) Poonakeary with financial assistance form UN-ILO Local Empowerment through Economic Development (LEED) project have sponsored research on crab net selectivity studies that will further support the management of the immature crabs from entering the fishery.  In 2015 undergraduate students from the Uva Wellasa Universtiy and Ocean University conducted empirical assessments of the fishery on non-target species (NTS) using MSC’s Risk Based Framework for data poor fisheries.

A FIP steering Committee was established by SEASL with the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DFAR), fisher co-ops and fisher groups and NARA in 2013. The national steering committee has met twice. The third annual meeting will take place in March 2016. The national steering committee seeks to dovetail data collection efforts with fishery management initiatives for blue swimmer crab fishers and fisheries annually. Sri Lankan coastal fisheries have long been plagued with trawler issues both domestically and abroad from India. A dialogue with the Foreign Minister, DFAR and fisher communities has been actively supported by the FIP. Fishery stakeholders continue to lobby and petition for policy changes that would prohibit destructive trawler activities in small scale crab fishermen’s fishing grounds. The DFAR with support from the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem Project (BOBLME) completed fishing effort surveys in both fisheries to further improve the understanding and management of the fishery.


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The 3rd Annual SLBSC FIP National Steering Committee Meeting was held at the Sri Lanka Foundation on Monday, 28th March 2016. The national steering committee meeting was attended by representatives of fishermen’s cooperative societies from Puttalam, Mannar, Kilinochchi and Jaffna districts. Officers and staff from the DFAR and NARA also attended the meeting. The SEASL was represented by the FIP Coordinator. An overview of the progress made by the FIP during 2015/16 was presented by the FIP, together with an outline of the work plan for 2016/17. Dr. Haputhantri, Principal Researcher at NARA presented the preliminary results of NARA’s scientific study of the SLBSC fishery in Jaffna Districts. Representatives of fishermen’s cooperative societies from Puttalam, Mannar, Kilinochchi and Jaffna districts gave their feedback and comments on the progress of the FIP over the last 12 months. The future FIP plans were discussed and agreed by the members of the SLBSC FIP National Steering Committee.

Joint activities were organized by Sri Lankan fishermen from north and southern Sri Lanka on the 5th February 5, 2016 to increase the public awareness on Illegal fishing by Tamil Nadu trawlers in Sri Lankan waters. Events were organized to demonstrate fishermen’s opposition to the failure of both the Sri Lankan government and the Indian government to resolve the issue of illegal fishing by Tamil Nadu trawlers in Sri Lankan waters. The events were organised to coincide with Indian External Affairs Minister Honourable Sushma Swaraj’s two day visit to Sri Lanka (4-5th of February 2016). During this visit discussions were held between the governments of Sri Lanka and India to find a solution to illegal fishing by Tamil Nadu trawlers in Sri Lankan waters.

Find more updates on the SEASL FIP in the most recent activity newsletter

During the FIP Managers meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, Dr. Steve Creech of SEASL reviewed the work-to-date of the Sri Lanka blue swimming crab FIP. In keeping with the MSC principle of conducting an open and transparent FIP, SEASL publishes two quarterly reports a year which can be found on the Crab Council resource library page.

Stock assessments are being conducted on an ongoing basis using length based spawning potential ratio (LB SPR) with data collected from local fishers at landing sites.

SEASL has drafted a harvest control strategy which includes: the Fishery and Aquatic Resources Act (1996), federal regulations for the BSC fishery, the establishment of rules and management tools for BSC fisheries and creating fishery management plans based on existing administration and fishery management structures.

The Sri Lankan fishery is making good progress against MSC indicators. Its largest challenges are persistent IUU fishing by Indian Tamil Nadu trawlers in Sri Lankan waters, and the use of illegal trawl nets by Sri Lankan boats

Over the last three months, the Sri Lankan FIP conducted three studies to determine the blue swimming crab fishery’s impact on non-target species. The results of these studies were included in the FIP’s non target species database, which now comprises seven studies from landing centers in the major and minor fisheries. None of the non-target species landed contributed more than 5% total catch. The FIP will complete the analysis of NTS present in the catch of the BSC fishery in the first quarter of 2017.

A fishery mapping exercise was also conducted with assistance from the University of Columbo. The exercise compiled satellite images, digitized maps of marine habitats and community mapping of marine habitats with BSC fishermen to build base maps for key marine habitats i.e., coral reefs, mangroves, mud flats, sea grass beds in the fishing grounds of BSC fishery in the  major fishery in Jaffna district. From the materials, an app is being designed to assist fisherman in locating their fishing gear.

An extensive consultation program is underway throughout each of Sri Lanka’s 82 BSC fishing communities to codify current fishing practices. Fishermen were asked to recommend the most appropriate fishing method, mesh size, net height, number of net pieces per fishermen and per boat and other guidelines, proposals or restrictions most likely to contribute to a sustainably managed fishery. Data and information collected from the 82 fishing communities has been used to synthesize a draft voluntary code of conduct for BSC in Sri Lanka, together with a fishery management plan administered by existing local authorities and regulated by the department of fisheries. In the major fishery, fishermen’s leaders from the three districts are working towards synthesizing a unified voluntary code of conduct for the BSC major fishery which will come into operation January 2017.

On March 3rd, SEASL hosted the 2nd blue swimmer crab fishery steering committee meeting with representatives from DFAR, NARA, fisher community representatives, and seafood companies.  The meeting was held at the Sri Lanka Foundation with simultaneous translation between English and Tamil.  The main issue fishers were concerned about was the ‘illegal’ Indian and Sri Lankan trawlers present in coastal waters.  The Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DFAR), said they are keen to work with fisher communities in strategies to address local trawler issues.

On March 17th, SEASL hosted the MSC’s Developing World Program with coordinator, Cassie Leisk.  The workshop was training on MSC’s criteria and their process of assessment.  Fishery managers, fishery scientists, and universities attended the workshop.  Regionally, there is keen interest on MSC’s Risk Based Framework (RBF) for Principle 2 indicators on the ecosystem, given the inherent selectivity of crab gillnets and traps.

Officers and staff of the DFAR took an important step towards formulating a set of rules and regulations specific in 2015. The DFAR successfully completed the first ever ‘fishing effort’ survey of the BSC fisheries the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal. The results of the ‘fishing effort’ surveys were shared with fishing communities, seafood companies and NARA through a series of workshops held at the district level and in Colombo in October and November. BSC fishing communities have also conducted their own assessments of
‘fishing effort’ in each BSC fishery. The results of the DFAR survey and the fishermen’s cooperatives’ survey will be discussed with fishing communities and DFAR staff in 2016. The outcomes of these discussions will be used to formulate a set of management rules and regulations specific to the SLBSC fishery.

Researching and documenting the BSC fishery’s impact on non target species (i.e., the bycatch), critical marine habitats (e.g., mangroves, coral reefs and sea grass beds) and the broader marine ecosystems in the Gulf of Mannar and the Bay of Bengal are crucial steps towards improving the ecological status of the BSC fishery.

Wathsala Dolawaththa another a final year student from the UWU completed his final year research project on the impact of the SLBSC fishery on non target species in the Bay of Bengal in December 2015. He too was supervised by Dr. Sepalika Jayamanne, Dean of the Faculty of Animal Science and Export Agriculture at Uva Wellasa University.

Wathsala’s final report and research paper on the impact of the SLBSC fishery on non target species in the Bay of Bengal will be published in March 2016.

Dr. Sisira Haputhanthri, Principal Scientist of the Marine Resources Management Division at NARA and his staff completed the collection of field data for NARA’s scientific study of the population biology of the SLSBC in December 2015. More than 35,000 BSC from four landing centres in Jaffna District during the past 12 months. NARA’s field research programme was coordinated by the SEASL’s field coordinator for the Northern Province, Theva Sutharsan.
Monthly samples collected by NARA’s field research team have been analysed in the laboratory by NARA research officers. Key population biology parameters that will be established by NARA from the research include the length / weight relationship for male and female BSC; growth; mortality; size on maturity; fecundity; spawning seasonality and diet.

NARA’s final report on the population biology of SLBSC in the Bay of Bengal will be submitted to the SEASL at the end of February 2016.

Inaugural SLBSC Steering Committee Meeting held at the Conference Hall of the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in Colombo. The meeting was presided over by the Director General and attended by fishing community representatives from Kalpitiya, Mannar, Kilinochchi and Jaffna, seafood companies and officers and staff of DFAR and the National Aquatic Resource Research and Development Agency (NARA).

Co-financing sub project proposal discussed and submitted to the ILO UN’s Local Empowerment for Economic Development (LEED) project in Kilinochchi. The co-financed sub project will enable the Fishermen’s Cooperative Society Union in Kilinochchi District to undertake a fishing gear selectivity study, as part of the SLBSC FIP

SLBSC Sustainable Fishery Stakeholder Workshop held in Negombo with representatives of government authorities and agencies, seafood companies, Sri Lankan civil society organisations and the regional representative of the National Fisheries Institute Crab Council (NFI CC).

A scoping document in three languages was drafted and circulated among potential partners to the Sri Lanka Blue Swimming Crab (SLBSC) Fishery Improvement Project. The scoping document outlines the key steps that needed to be taken to ensure the biological, ecological, economic and social sustainability of the SLBSC fishery

SEASL completed a 1-month stock assessment in Kalpitiya as part of grant awarded by UN-IOM, using SPR methodology.  Trials on a gill-net selectivity study were also undertaken in Kalpititya, which will feed into another gillnet selectivity study by UN-ILO in the North of the country.  The assessment information will be compiled with data collected under several funders including UN-ILO, UN-IOM and NFI, which are also contributing to the single stock assessment for the fishery.  With 3 funders, Sri Lanka is one of the more well-funded FIPs comparable to size of the fishery.  A technical working group including Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DFAR), National Aquatic Research and Development (NARA), and Seafood Exporters Association Sri Lanka (SEASL) will review the data.

SLBSC Sustainable Fishery Stakeholder Workshop held in Negombo with representatives of government authorities and agencies, seafood companies, Sri Lankan civil society organisations and the regional representative of the National Fisheries Institute Crab Council

FIP is progressing and is due to launch in late October.  Dr. Steven Creech has completed the data collection for the initial Fishery Assessment, and is in the process of compiling this information into a sustainability program context.  Work plan outline for the FIP has been drafted.   SEASL website is being developed to document their sustainability initiative.


At the end of October, Sri Lanka’s Seafood Exporter’s Association launched the Sri Lankan Blue Swimming Crab FIP.  Presiding over the event was the Honorable Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Dr. Rajitha Seneratne MP.

In conjunction with the FIP launch, an informational and reporting website for the Seafood Exporters Association of Sri Lanka ( went live. On the website, stakeholders will find data and information pertaining to the BSC and Tuna sustainability initiatives in addition to facts on involved seafood companies, products and fishery regions.