Virtual roundtable

‘Initiative needed to protect fishing community’

Towfiqul Arif, Shaheen Anam, Abdul Wahab, Syed Arif Azad
Towfiqul Arif, Shaheen Anam, Abdul Wahab, Syed Arif Azad
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The 65-day ban on fishing has increased fish resources in the Bay of Bengal. But the socioeconomic condition of the fishermen suffers during the ban. Many do not receive the assistance provided by the government. So attention must be paid to the living standards of the fishermen while boosting fish resources in the bay. The fund created for the fishermen in this connection must be increased.

These observations were made on Sunday at the virtual roundtable on ’65-day ban: State of fishermen during corona times and future plans’. The roundtable was organised by Prothom Alo and Manusher Jonno Foundation.

Speakers at the roundtable laid stress on preparing and implementing an appropriate plan for sustainable harvest of the Bay of Bengal’s resources.

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Senior programme manager of Manusher Jonno Foundation, Sheikh Giasuddin Ahmed, presented the results of a study in this regard. He said that as it was, the fishermen were suffering during the coronavirus pandemic. Then the 65-day ban on fishing was imposed from 20 May. As a result, one-third of the fishermen became day labourers. Another one-third was unemployed. The rest took up other occupations.

He said, before the ban they would earn Tk 371 a day and in the 65 days this dwindled to Tk 107. They took high-interest loans from the moneylenders in this period. They had to cut costs on health and education.

There were many positive outcomes of the 65-day ban, but there needed to be further research on what would be the ideal span of time for the ban. The coastal people were marginalised as it was and, on top of that, they risked their lives to catch fish in the ocean.... Alternative employment must also be planned for them
Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation

Speaking as chief guest at the roundtable, joint secretary (blue economy) of the fisheries and livestock ministry, Md Towfiqul Arif, said that talks would be held with India and other countries of the Bay of Bengal region so that the ban on fishing could be imposed at the same time.

He said that the Tk 50 billion (Tk 5000 crore ) stimulus package announced by the government during the coronavirus pandemic, had provision for loans at 4 per cent interest in the agriculture sector. The fisheries sector would get loans from that too. He said that the fisheries department would update the data bank concerning fishermen and that efforts were being made so that the fishermen would be able to avail low-interest loans.

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Executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, Shaheen Anam, said that there were many positive outcomes of the 65-day ban, but there needed to be further research on what would be the ideal span of time for the ban. She said that the coastal people were marginalised as it was and, on top of that, they risked their lives to catch fish in the ocean. She said that thought must be given as to how to minimise their marginalisation. Alternative employment must also be planned for the fishermen, she added.

Shaheen Anam went on to say, the fishermen have been catching fish for generations, but their children needed to be educated so they could take up other vocations. She appealed to the government to ensure the economic empowerment of the women of fishing community families, pointing to the increase in child marriage and child labour during the prevalence of coronavirus. Children were increasingly becoming victims of abuse. So there was need to think about the overall lives and livelihood of the fishermen.

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Former director general of the fisheries department, Syed Arif Azad, said most of the initiatives taken by the government in the fisheries sector were spontaneous. But these decisions did yield results. He said there was need for further discussions on the 65-day ban. He said India had imposed a 61-day ban this year, but then lessened it to 41 days due to coronavirus. He stressed the need for a holistic development plans regarding the fishermen’s living standards.

Child marriage had increased in the fisher community families. There were 20 million members of fishing families in 24 coastal regions of the country. And one in every five will have to shift from the coast due to climate change

Team leader of World Fish, Bangladesh’s eco-fish project, Abdul Wahab, said if you add up the various bans on fishing throughout the year, it totals 148 days. Some section or the other of the fisher community cannot catch fish during this time. So the fishermen throughout the year contribute to increasing the fish resources. Keeping their contribution in mind, the social safety net for them should be increased. Each family should be given Tk 2000 a month during the ban period. Alternative employment must be arranged for them. A separate payment for ecosystem allocation must be kept for them.

Chief scientific officer of the marine fisheries survey unit in Chattogram, Dr Mohammad Sharifuddin said, we will select 100 model villages for the fishermen, train 18,000 youth and given management development training to 64,000 fishermen.

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In his opening statement, Prothom Alo associate editor Abdul Quayum emphasised on the need for alternative employment for the fishermen. He said that the country’s success in boosting hilsa production should be put to use in planning development of marine resources.

Executive director of Coast Trust, Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, said child marriage had increased in the fisher community families. There were 20 million members of fishing families in 24 coastal regions of the country. And one in every five will have to shift from the coast due to climate change. He said consideration could be given to lessening the 65-day ban.

Social welfare secretary of the National Workers Federation, SM Zakir Hossain, said though rice was supposed to be allocated in two phases during the 65 days, this was being given only once. He said every month 60 to 65 kg of rice and Tk 3000 should be provided. He also said that during the ban, influential quarters caught fish with contraband nets and poisoned bait during the ban. It should be seen whether India’s ban could be imposed at the same time, he said.

Adviser to the Cox’s Bazar Fish Workers Association Mizanur Rahman Bahadur said, climate change causes frequent depressions in the bay and so the fishermen cannot catch fish. During the coronavirus pandemic, the fish workers have not received NGO loans and so they are taking loans at high interest rates from the money lenders.

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General secretary of Jatiya Sramik Jote, Bangladesh, Naimul Ahsan Jewel said that a data bank is fishermen must be prepared. When they do not have work they must be given an incentive. They must have proper identity. Many of they are lost at sea and their families have no idea. This will provide social security to them.

The UN Food and Agriculture (FAO)’s National Operation Officer Begum Nurunnahar said there was need to increase research on marine fish resources.

Assistant professor of the University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh, Rumana Sultana, called to spread education among the fishing community families.

The roundtable was moderated by Prothom Alo assistant editor Firoz Choudhury.

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