Are the iconic stilt fisherman of southern Sri Lanka a dying breed? Only tourists are keeping the tradition alive

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Are the iconic stilt fisherman of Sri Lanka a dying breed? Only tourists are keeping the tradition alive.


The iconic stilt fishermen of southern Sri Lanka are a must-visit selfie op for the thousands of tourists who throng the beaches at Unawatuna and Weligama.

In homage to a possibly disappearing tradition, The Diplomat website has published a photo essay by Ahmer Khan, a freelance documentary photographer based in Kashmir.

For stilt fishing, a vertical pole and crossbar is embedded inthe sea floor, allowing the fishermen to sit a couple of meters above the water, causing minimal shadows on the water and therefore little to no disturbance.


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Writes Ahmer: “Stilt fishing is a recent innovation, first adopted just after World War II when food shortages and overcrowded fishing spots prompted people to try fishing further out on the water.

“Two generations of fishermen have eked out this physically demanding existence at dawn and dusk along a 30-kilometer stretch of southern shore between the towns of Unawatuna and Weligama.”

But this picturesque mode of fishing is rapidly declining, and is now more of a tourist attraction as many fisherman take up farming, or reselling fish purchased at larger markets.


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The money collected from tourists is divided into equal parts among the fishermen, with a share also going to the tour operator who brings the tourists to the shore.

“We need to make a living out of something,” says fisherman T H Sena.

In 2009, the year in which the 26-year-long civil war came to an end in Sri Lanka, tourist arrivals numbered about 448,000. In 2017, tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka reached an all-time high of 2,116,407.

Read more here.


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