The problems that the fishermen in Bhola and Patuakhali are raising are more or less same for all fishermen in the coastal area. Fishermen themselves don’t have money. They borrow from the lenders and the owners of warehouses to get boats and buy nets as well to feed their families in the lean season. In return, they sell fish to the warehouse at a low prices. The life of the fishermen is apparently at the mercy of this stockists.
It’s good news that fish production, including that of hilsa, is increasing. But the lives of those who fish defying all odds are very uncertain. Sometimes it is very risky. Twenty-two fishermen went missing after going to fish in the coastal area of Bhola in the last one year. Financial assistance given by the government during ‘drought season’ is quiet inadequate. And on top of that, a portion of the government allocation finds its the way to the pockets of the local representatives and influential persons. Many chairmen and members of union parishad also served jail terms for embezzling rice meant for fishermen. Yet the situation has not improved.
According to records, nearly 3 million (30 lakh) fishermen live in the coastal region. Not all of them are registered. In Bhola district, 136,000 out of about 175,000 fishermen are registered. So, it is necessary to bring all fishermen of the district under registration to provide financial assistance.
The practice of usury has been abolished in Bangladesh for quite some time. But coastal fishermen are forced to borrow from the lenders at a high interest as they don’t get loan from banks. The government should give adequate loans to fisherman to overcome the situation. For this, establishing banks in remote area is not essential. They can be provided with loans through mobile banking and agent banking. Many fishermen don’t have permanent homes. If they were given khas land they will earn something by farming in the dry season.
While the population of the country is on the rise, it’s declining in the coastal area. A Prothom Alo report was published on this a few days ago. There is no reliable source of income there except fishing. To solve the problem, the government should give special attention to improve living standards of the coastal people. A coastal development authority can be set up like that of the special economic zones. Development of fisheries will not sustain without improvement of the fishermen's lives.