Bangladesh can catch fish from up to 660 kilometres from the Bay of Bengal but its trawlers tap fisheries from only up to 60 kilometres owing to lack of facility.
For instance, in 2016 the country caught only 95,000 tonnes of fish in contrast to 8 million tonnes by India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand from the Bay of Bengal. Bangladeshi trawlers accounted for 11 percent of the total catch last year.
“We have huge untapped resources in the sea,” said M Khurshed Alam, secretary of Maritime Affairs Unit of the foreign affairs ministry, while presenting a keynote on blue economy from the perspective of Bangladesh at International Biennial Conference and Annual General Meeting 2017.
The Zoological Society of Bangladesh and the department of zoology of Dhaka University organised the event at the Bangladesh Shishu Academy.
Finance Minister AMA Muhith spoke among others on the occasion.
Some 69,000 artisanal mechanised and non-mechanised boats and about 200 industrial steel body trawlers are engaged in fishing in up to 60 kilometres from the coastline, according to Alam.
And hilsha is the single most valuable species caught.
The average depth of the Bay of Bengal is 2,500 metre. And yet, there is hardly any capability of catching demersal fishes below 50 metre depth of water. Longline fishing is totally absent in deep waters, he said.
There is tremendous scope for increasing marine catch by introducing technology, long line and incentives for bigger ocean going trawler, said Alam, also a former naval officer.
The global population will be 9 billion by 2050 and 100 million tonne of additional fishes will be needed by that time.
“It will be good if we can catch at least 5 million tonnes of fishes from the sea.”
Not only fish, the sea also offers prospect of aquaculture, energy and mineral resources, carrying cargo through the development of shipping and port facilities, tourism and biotechnology, he said.
The blue economy comprises of the activities that directly or indirectly take place in the seas, oceans and coasts, using oceanic resources and eventually contributing to sustainable inclusive economic growth, employment and well being while preserving the health of the ocean.
Bangladesh has taken initiative to tap into the blue economy after it got the right to fish and explore resources within 118,813 square kilometres of the sea and trawl up to 200 nautical miles into the Bay of Bengal based on a verdict from an international tribunal in 2014.
“Fish oils are used to make pharmaceuticals. The skin of fish is also used to make jackets.”
Alam, citing Bangladesh's overseas trade of $74 billion in 2015, said more than 90 percent of the freight trade was seaborne.
Some 2,600 foreign ships visited Bangladesh's ports and $5 billion was required to pay to carry the freight due to inadequate merchant ships, he said.
The sea also offers scope to tap prospect of exploring fossil fuels and other mineral resources, renewable energy, modernisation of salt production industry as well as cruise tourism.
“Trends in aging population, rising income and relatively low transport costs will make coastal and ocean locations ever more attractive. Cruise tourism is the fastest growing sector in the leisure travel industry,” he added.
Finance Minister AMA Muhith said there is a lack of capacity and skills to explore and utilise the blue economy.
Coordinated initiatives by all including public and private sectors are necessary to use sea resources, he said.
Muhith, citing the increase in food production since 1971, said Bangladesh has been able to exploit its land much better than marine resources.
“Not only prospect, there is also a lot of risk related to blue economy. We have to proceed in a planned manner to ensure sustainability,” said Selima Khatun, special assistant to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
“We have to ensure that no resource is destroyed to acquire another resource,” she said, citing a past attempt to catch frog and export legs of the species.
Frog eats insects but indiscriminate catch affected its population. The use of pesticides has also affected aquatic lives, she said.
Amanullah Chowdhury, vice-chairman of Rangs Group, said the government's support, especially from the fisheries department, is needed to develop the blue economy.
“We do not get that much support,” he said, citing delays in giving decisions as a case in point.
Mohammad Akhtaruzzaman, vice-chancellor of Dhaka University; Khan Habibur Rahman, president of the Zoological Society of Bangladesh; Md Anwarul Islam, chairman of the Dhaka University's department of zoology; and FH Ansarey, managing director of the agribusiness division of ACI, spoke among others.