Fishermen struggle amid Sri Lankan financial crisis

STORY: After three grueling weeks out at sea, fishermen in Sri Lanka are counting up their catch on the docks of Negombo, a tight-knit fishing community on the island country's west coast.

But the numbers don't look great to 44-year-old Anton Fernando, and he fears his trade will no longer earn him a living.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst financial crisis since its independence in 1948, and soaring prices are piling the pressure on fishermen -- from the cost of fuel for their boats down to food for their families.

"For the 21 days that we have been out at sea, we've earned 40,000 rupees ($123). This isn't enough to cover our household expenses. Even before we go home, we know this isn't enough to cover electricity and water bills, tuition fees and food."

While fishing is less than two percent of Sri Lanka's economy, its impact is big: it employs a tenth of Sri Lanka's people, and helps feed far more.

At a nearby beach in Negombo's Sea Street neighbourhood, 47-year-old fisherman G.K. Chaminda says he's struggling to pay back the loan he took out on his boat three years ago.

"We are having real difficulties. We eat only one meal per day and groceries are also very difficult to buy, and we also don't have milk powder for children. We don't have any other basic necessities, so what kind of future can we see? As far as our future is concerned, we feel that we will starve and die, that is the situation."

The financial crisis has grounded at least half the area's trawler fleet, according to local officials, who are predicting "a life-and-death situation here over the next three to six months".

It's prompted weeks of protests just 25 miles away in the commercial capital of Colombo, where demonstrators have been demanding solutions -- and the removal of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Sri Lanka's financial minister told Reuters this month the government's first priority is to restore essentials such as fuel, and that it's seeking some aid from lenders like the International Monetary Fund for the country's economically vulnerable populations.

Sri Lanka's fisheries and finance ministries did not immediately respond to request for comment on specific measures being taken to help the fishing industry.

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