Addressing the discussion, additional secretary of the fisheries and livestock ministry Toufiqul Arif said, the production of hilsa can be increased to a certain level. Due to climate change, hilsa production may not always increase. This must be taken into cognizance. Accordingly, alongside hilsa, attention must be paid to other fish and marine resources in the ocean. All potential must be exploited. Individual and companies are not coming forward to invest in deep sea fishing. Technical skills and investment must be increased in this area.

Toufiqul Arif said, the fisher community must be provided food assistance under the social safety net sector during the period when catching of fish is banned. The government is looking into drawing members of the fisher community who go out to sea, away from the money-lending business. Women are not being registered as fisherpersons and, in many cases, the women's families are not eager about this. But women are being given importance as a supporting force. The government is also taking up various programmes so that the fisher folk do not have to remain in this one profession their entire lives.

At the discussion it was also pointed out that with USAID support, under the 'ECOFISH-Bangladesh' project of the fisheries and livestock ministry, all sorts of assistance was being provided to increase hilsa production by means of scientific research, protecting fish habitats and breeding grounds, providing alternative employment to fishing people during the ban on catching 'jatka' and mother fish, and so on.

Speaking at the roundtable, Bangladesh Agricultural University's former vice chancellor, emeritus professor and former member of the planning commission, Abdus Sattar Mandal, said that discussions were being held at the United Nations and other forums about ocean-based economy, livelihood and so on. The government's development documents also have a lot of good deliberations in this regard. Priorities must now be set and taken forward.

Bangladesh is in a good strategic position concerning ocean-based economy, said Abdus Sattar Mandal, terming this as a promising sector. He said a blue print should be drawn up to project the achievements to be made in next 5 to 10 years in this sector. And the fishing people, rather than being limited to just the fishing profession, should be involved in the hilsa-based businesses too.

He recommended a separate hilsa unit in the ministry's planning cell, national hilsa awards, capturing the processed hilsa export market and also accepting that one would have to pay a little extra for hilsa.

Team leader of WorldFish Bangladesh (ECOFISH-2) and former professor of Bangladesh Agricultural University, Md Abdul Wahab, said that a 22-day programme to protect mother hilsa was currently in place. Blue economy means looking towards the ocean. Hilsa production had doubled and the people themselves were protecting hilsa. He called for attention to be paid to other sea fish too.

Executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, Shaheen Anam, highlighted women's marginal position in the families of the fishing community, particularly those who caught fish in small boats. The members of these families are deprived of health and education. While the women work as helpers in these families, their work is not visible and so is not valued. So the issue of women must be given separate attention and evaluated accordingly. It must be kept in mind that if women did not help in the fisheries sector, its management would not be that easy.

Deputy director (environment and enterprise) of USAID in Bangladesh, Keith Metzner, said USAID has been working with the government of Bangladesh since 1971 and investing in various sectors. It has been providing the Bangladesh government with assistance for forests, water bodies and rivers. Bangladesh ranks well in hilsa management, he said.

Former director general of the fisheries department Syed Arif Azad said, hilsa has the highest contribution (around 11 per cent) to the country's fish production and contributes to one per cent of the GDP. Hilsa has international recognition. Hilsa can be found in Myanmar, the Arabian Sea and other places. Bangladesh also plays an important role in regional initiatives to protect hilsa. But these achievements must be held on to. Around 400,000 people are each provided with 40 kg of food assistance monthly during the period when fishing is banned. This is also a unique precedence.

USAID Bangladesh project manager, specialist (environment office of economic growth) Ashraful Huq, said the government is being supported with USAID assistance in hilsa management. The fishing community is giving leadership to this management at a community level. The fisher persons and the community are contributing to the protection of the ecosystem by means of various training.

Women are receiving business-related training and also financial assistance, so that they can have a role in alternative employment. He said that the fishing community must be included in the planning.

Prothom Alo associate editor Abdul Quayum gave the welcome address at the event. The meeting was moderated by Prothom Alo assistant editor Firoz Choudhury.

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