We applaud the government for its successful endeavours to increase fish production in the country—efforts that have resulted in Bangladesh ranking third in producing fish from inland water bodies, according to a report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) last year’. In the 2016-2017 fiscal year, Bangladesh produced a total of 41,34,000 metric tonnes of fish, including a first-time surplus of 84,000 tonnes. One of the ways this has been possible is by prioritising conservation of jatka (small hilsa) and other species through periodic bans on catching, transporting and selling fish from natural water bodies like the rivers and the sea. This ensures safe breeding and spawning of fish and helps to protect their fries. The bans, however, while significantly increasing fish production, have a detrimental effect on the fisher communities as their survival depends on the amount of fish they can catch and sell each day. During the bans, the fisherfolk are essentially jobless and fall into financial hardship.
At a recent seminar, discussants highlighted the need to help out the fishermen during these lean times when they cannot fish. Long-term planning is needed for this which would ensure alternative livelihoods and also provide adequate allowances to the fishermen and their families, most of whom are poor and lead miserable days during the ban periods. The government should start registering fishermen so that they can be properly monitored and assisted. The state minister for fisheries and livestock gave his assurance at the seminar that the irregularities in distribution of food during the ban periods have been reduced significantly in recent times which we hope is something that will be sustained.
There is no doubt that these periodic bans are needed to ensure a regular supply of fish to be consumed at home and exported abroad. This ultimately benefits the fisher communities. But it is also important to help these communities pull through during the times they are forced to refrain from fishing. The nation has an obligation to support those hardworking fisher folks who provide us with one of the biggest sources of protein.