The government is set to issue more licences to catch tuna and pelagic fishes beyond the 200-metre depth of the Bay of Bengal and in the Indian Ocean, said officials at the fisheries and livestock ministry.
As of now, a total of 16 firms have applied to the Department of Fisheries (DoF) for permission.
The country is yet to introduce longline fishing, a commercial fishing technique, to catch tuna and other fish species in the deep marine water.
Neighbouring countries such as Sri Lanka, the Maldives and India are using longline fishing and are earning a handsome amount from exporting the catches. Currently, some species of tuna are found as by-catch of industrial, mechanised and non-mechanised trawlers. In quantity, tuna comprised about 2 percent of the industrial catch in fiscal 2015-16, according to the DoF.
The government took the step to explore sea resources as Bangladesh got the right to fish in 118,813 square kilometres area of the sea and trawl up to 200 nautical miles into the Bay of Bengal after a verdict from an international tribunal in 2014.
The country also took steps to become a member of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission to explore tuna at the outward boundary of its 200 nautical miles.
Nasiruddin Md Humayun, former director of marine under the DoF, called for an immediate assessment of the stock of tuna resources at the outward boundary.
“We need to know how many species are found and at what time of the year these migratory fishes are found aplenty. These are necessary to attract investors,” he added.
The economic value of tuna is high internationally because of high demand, said Md Towfiqul Arif, joint secretary (blue economy) of the fisheries ministry.
“That's why the government has taken an initiative to issue licences to catch tuna,” he said, adding that the licences might be issued by next month.
However, there are concerns. Insiders said none of the four firms that got licences for longline fishing last year have bought the necessary vessels yet. Only two have submitted specification of the trawlers for the DoF's approval.
But as per provision, the firms get two years from the day of permission to buy the vessels. Insiders said quite a good amount of investment is needed for longline fishing.
Besides, local investors do not have the experience in tuna and pelagic fishing in deep water.
DoF officials said local investors will be able to catch tuna in joint venture with foreign investors to acquire knowledge and experience on such type of fishing and develop human resources. At present, 247 industrial trawlers are permitted to fish beyond the 40-metre depth of the sea.
In addition, 68,000 mechanised and non-mechanised boats are engaged in fishing in Bangladesh's marine waters, which accounted for 6.27 lakh tonnes of fish out of the total of 3.88 crore tonnes in fiscal 2005-16, according to the DoF. Industrial fishing accounted for 13 percent of the total marine catches.