‘Concerted efforts needed to increase fish production’

Bangladesh is among the top world producers of fish from rivers, ponds and other water bodies. Yet a large section of the poor people in the country cannot avail an adequate amount of fish. We have managed to harness large volumes of fish by settling the maritime boundary dispute, but we have the potential to catch even double the amount. That is why concerted efforts of various government organisations and the private sector are needed alongside the fisheries department to increase fish production. This will prove the Bay of Bengal to be a treasure trove of fish and biodiversity.

These observations were made at a virtual roundtable on ‘Marine biodiversity, ocean economy and welfare of fishermen’. The roundtable held on Thursday was organised jointly by Prothom Alo and WorldFish Bangladesh.

Speaking at the meeting, former vice chancellor of Bangladesh Agricultural University, Abdus Sattar Mandal said that the settlement of the maritime boundary had created limitless possibilities for us. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) also spoke of using ocean resources. Bangladesh is part of the eight-nation Bay of Bengal project. Bangladesh will receive cooperation in the removal of heavy metal pollution in the coastal areas. It also spoke of an ocean resources survey and harnessing resources as part of the Delta Plan.

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Abdus Sattar Mandal said our seventh five-year plan places importance on inland fresh water fish cultivation. We have an intake of 66 grams of fish, but even then the poor people, urban and rural, do not get an adequate amount of fish.

Ever year in the country 660,000 tonnes of ocean resources were harvested. It would be possible to increase this to 1.3 million tonnes

The price of fish has not increased since the year 2000 and so the question was, why should the private sector entrepreneurs be interested to invest in fish production? We can capture sea fish for the export market.

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Team leader of the international organisation WorldFish Bangladesh’s Eco-Fish 2 project, professor Abdul Wahab, said that hilsa played a significant role in increasing Bangladesh’s total fish production. The government provides fishermen with assistance during the season when catching hilsa (ilish) and jatka (small hilsa) was banned. As a result, jatka and fish with eggs were not caught and hilsa production increased. However, he said, the marine fishing ban need to be considered further based on scientific information and needs fine tuning in regard to start and end date and it’s duration.

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The law enforcement agencies and the media played a good role in protecting hilsa. Ever year in the country 660,000 tonnes of ocean resources were harvested. It would be possible to increase this to 1.3 million tonnes.

Abdul Wahab went on to say, WorldFish Bangladesh was implementing the USAID-funded Enhanced Coastal Fisheries in Bangladesh (Eco Fish 2) project. This was being implemented in 36 upazilas of 12 districts of the country with the assistance of the fisheries department and other partners. Under the project, work was being carried out on the protection of marine biodiversity in the Cox’s Bazar coastal region, the Meghna estuary and the Nijhum Dwip marine protected area, improving the lives and livelihood of the fishermen, and women’s empowerment.

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Former director general of the fisheries department Sayed Arif Azad said the scientific research of WorldFish had a significant contribution to the increase in hilsa production. However, we still were behind in shrimps. Exporters were unwilling to spend Tk 500 in virus tests for shrimp farming, but would eventually pay Tk 50,000 in fines. Such reasons held back our shrimp cultivation.

Hilsa use the river Meghna to go to the sea. If we cannot protect the rivers from pollution, all efforts to step up fish production will fail
Niamul Naser, professor of biology at Dhaka University

The Sundarbans was a huge protection for our marine resources. But excessive fish was being caught there and illegal fishing nets were being used because the fisheries department had no programme there. The forest department was controlling this alone and so we were deprived of a lot of technical support to protect the resources there.

Team leader of WorldFish’s climate change programme, Esham Yeasin Muhammad, said as in other countries, climate change was having an impact on Bangladesh’s ocean resources too. Research and scientific information and data were required to tackle this or Bangladesh would lose the opportunity to harness the marine resources.

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In his opening speech, Prothom Alo’s associate editor Abdul Quayum said, we rank among the top fish producers in the world. We will go further ahead if we can harness our marine resources properly.

Professor of biology at Dhaka University, Niamul Naser, said that hilsa use the river Meghna to go to the sea. If we cannot protect the rivers from pollution, all efforts to step up fish production will fail. Pesticides and industrial waste were polluting rivers and other bodies of water. This is entering the bodies of the fish. Unless hilsa sanctuaries were protected, production could fall again.

Bangladesh country director of IUCN, Raquibul Amin said management must be built up to protect Bay of Bengal’s Swatch of No Ground. Just declaring it a protected zone was no enough. All the government agencies would have to work together to protect the zone. Most of the fishermen were poor. They can’t be stopped from going to sea unless they were provided with support.

Chairman of Prokriti O Jibon Foundation, Mukit Majumdar Babu, said in many countries excessive catching of fish had destroyed the biodiversity. We must take care not to do the same.

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Senior scientist of Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute, Md Enamul Hoq, said that some of our fish is being caught in excess from the Bay of Bengal. This could drive fish like poa, lakhya and chanda towards extinction.

The virtual roundtable was moderated by assistant editor of Prothom Alo, Firoz Choudhury. He said, we have taken care to increase the production of hilsa. We can catch sea fish too while protecting biodiversity. We can also protect the interests of the fishermen.

At the outset of the meeting, the participants paid respects to Bangabandhu and his family members in commemoration of the month of mourning.