Pollution and uncontrolled catching of fish are sending several species towards extinction. About 1.6 million tonnes of fish are produced every year in the country through the initiatives of fishermen and cultivators, and most of these are local fish caught in open water bodies.
These fish are high in nutrition value.
According to various studies run by the international organisation, World Fish, Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute, and the fisheries department, 91 species of local fish are on the verge of extinction.
The research points to various threats faced by these freely bred fish.
The breeding grounds of the fish -- rivers and other water expanses and wetlands -- are steadily being polluted. There are hardly any fish left in rivers around the capital city, including Buriganga, Dhaleswari, Balu, Sitalakhya and Turag, as well as Karnaphuli in Chattogram.
In the meantime, 30 foreign species of predatory fish have been introduced locally and this too has led to depletion of local fish.
Again, around 100,000 tonnes of chemical fertiliser and pesticides are being used in agriculture annually. This seeps down through the soil into the water bodies, also decreasing the fish population. Excessive siltation of the rivers also has lessened the volume of fish.
In its research, World Fish has identified the variety naturally bred fish and the threats they face. The research was led Mostafa AR Hossain, Mahmudul Islam and Md Nahiduzzaman.
It was said that 1.3 million fishermen in Bangladesh were directly involved in small scale fisheries. They catch fish at the Sundarbans, the haors, rivers and wetlands. Till now 268 species are caught from these sources, but the numbers are gradually lessening.
At present 91 species of fish have dwindled in numbers and are on the brink of extinction. These include two species of pangash, 2 of gutum, 7 of chela, 2 of dankina, 2 of ghar poa, 3 of mahashir, 10 of puti, 2 of bhol and 6 of tengra.
The researchers say the that the local varieties of fish will have to be protected by the authorities in the same way that they protect hilsa, by creating breeding grounds and restricting fishing during the breeding seasons.
The government’s initiative has been successful in increasing the hilsa population by two and a half times in just over a decade. In 2014 the average weight of a hilsa was 440 grams. In 2018 this stands at 880 grams.
Head of World Fish’s eco fish project, professor Abdul Wahab, told Prothom Alo that Bangladesh has created a model strategy in protecting and increasing the production of hilsa.
The government can adopt a similar strategy for the fish in the open water expanses, he added.
*The report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir