Deep-sea fishermen can now trawl up to 200 nautical miles into the Bay of Bengal after an international arbitral tribunal last week awarded the majority of the disputed 25,602 sq km territory with India to Bangladesh.
Until now, fishermen ventured up to 100 nautical miles from the coast, and even then there was always the danger of falling afoul with India due to the long-running territorial dispute with the neighbouring country.
The verdict, which gave Bangladesh 19,467 sq km of the disputed 25,602 sq km, means the country now has a full stake on 200 nautical miles of the Bay.
“It is a great achievement -- undoubtedly, our fishing opportunity in the sea has increased. Above all, we can now catch fish in our area of the Bay of Bengal peacefully,” Nasiruddin Md Humayun, director of marine under the Department of Fisheries, said.
A major portion of the disputed space is located west of the Swatch of No-Ground, which is a major marine fishing zone for the country. The area which went to the country's favour is high in pelagic fish, which are species of fish that live neither close to the bottom nor near the shore.
However, some analysts say the gain in maritime area might not be of much benefit to the country after all.
Ahsan Iqbal Chowdhury, secretary general of the Bangladesh Marine Fisheries Association (BMFA), said the current technologies need upgrading if fishermen want to venture that far out into sea.
“The caveat here is that we do not have any estimate on how much fish there are, so we do not know if the investment would be worth it or not,” he said, while urging the government to conduct a stock assessment survey, last conducted over two and a half decades ago.
The government is in the process of procuring a research vessel to conduct survey in the sea, according to Humayun. The research vessel is due at the end of the year or early next year.
Mohammed Shahjalal, former secretary general of BMFA, also said the total catch might not increase, as there might not be that many commercially viable species of fish in the deep waters.
There might be some rock lobster and tuna fish, which remain available for just 2-3 months of the year, he said, adding that the potential of deep-water fishing would be clear after a survey of the stock.
Marine fishing in fiscal 2012-13 stood at 588,988 tonnes, up 1.79 percent year-on-year. Catches from trawler stood at 73,386 tonnes during the period, up 0.49 percent year-on-year.
Tuesday's verdict marks the second time the country has used international arbitration to stake its claim to the Bay of Bengal. In 2012, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ruled in Bangladesh's favour resolving conflicting claims with Myanmar in the Bay,
Myanmar had earlier protested against Bangladesh awarding offshore blocks to explore gas and oil, claiming they overlapped its territorial waters.