Ban on catching hilsa: Coordination between Bangladesh, India essential

Unlike the hilsa fish, the life of the fishermen who catch the fish is not bright at all. When there is a ban on catching hilsa, their livelihood becomes even more difficult. The financial assistance provided by the government does not provide sufficient food for their families.

Another negative effect of the government’s ban on catching hilsa was known through a Prothom Alo report on 28 June. The government imposes restrictions to increase production of the fish but during that period of ban spanning for over a month in Bangladesh, more hilsa is netted off the coast of Indian state of West Bengal. On the other hand, Bangladeshi fishermen get less hilsa during the season of fishing, they said.

Bangladesh imposes a ban thrice a year, including 22 days in October, on catching hilsa to protect it. In October, the mother fish is provided an opportunity to lay eggs. After that, there is a two-month ban on the protection of jatka (hilsa fry) from 1 March to 30 April. There is another round of ban on fishing in the Bay from 20 May to 23 July for the growth of fishes. India imposes such a ban between 15 April and 14 June. On 15 June, fishing starts off the Indian coast.

There is no opportunity to consider the matter from a political point of view. Experts from the two countries will have to sit together and decide when imposing the ban will benefit both. It is to be noted that though Bangladesh started imposing the ban a long time ago to increase the production of hilsa, India started it just from 2018.

Hilsa production in Bangladesh was 533,000 tonnes in the 2018-19 financial year. The fisheries department then set a target of increasing the annual production by 620,000 tonnes (16 per cent) in four years. However, in three years the growth rate was 6.34 per cent, which is less than half of the target.

The fishermen of the two countries spoke about imposing the ban simultaneously to increase the production of hilsa. According to Sayeed Mahmood Belal Haider, secretary to the fisheries and livestock ministry, it is time to rethink the current ban period in Bangladesh considering the emerging issues like rise in sea temperature or climate change.

“Our hilsa production will collapse if the ban in the two countries is not imposed simultaneously,” said Shah Alam Mullick, president of Chandpur’s country fishing boat owners association.

In this context, the government should start a formal discussion with India. Since 80 per cent of hilsa is caught off the coast of Bangladesh, therefore Bangladesh needs to have priority in terms of ban. But the problem is that our officials have not even started any formal discussion with the Indian side on the issue. An official of the fisheries and livestock ministry said the minister raised the issue informally when the Indian high commissioner paid a courtesy call on him.

But responsibilities do not end with raising the matter for discussion informally. The Bay of Bengal is the common source of hilsa for the fishermen of Bangladesh and India. If fishing is stopped in one area, there is a possibility of fishing excessively in other areas. Policymakers need to realise this.

Both the countries are expected to benefit if the ban is imposed simultaneously.