Patenga fishermen on decline
Declining fish stocks, unavailability of government support, rising prices of fishing materials, lack of capital and competition from outsiders are causing a gradual decline in the number of fishermen and vessels in Patenga.
Many fishermen who have held on to the profession for generations are now opting for other means of livelihoods.
â€œThere were around 250 boats in Patenga's community of fishermen four years back but now less than 100 remain to fish in the Bay of Bengal,â€ said Shaypal Das, secretary of Patenga Matsyajibi Somobai Samity.
â€œMost fishermen do not have the capital to buy the materials required in fishing and so have to rely on loan sharks,â€ he said.
Unable to catch enough to repay the debt, some have sold off their boats and fishing nets. Moreover with no form of government support available, many finally left the profession, he said.
â€œMany of them now work as day labourers in different factories in Chittagong Export Processing Zone and Karnaphuli Export Processing Zone (KEPZ),â€ he added.
Boat Owners' Association President Yar Mohammed said, â€œWe usually buy the boats and fishing nets from those who leave the profession.â€
Fishermen always borrow money from loan sharks before going fishing in deep waters, committing to repay the loan on their return. But fish stocks have declined and they cannot catch enough to repay the loan all at once, he said.
The loan sharks charge a monthly interest of around Tk 200 for every Tk 1,000 borrowed, he added.
â€œCompetition rises during the Hilsa season when fishermen from Noakhali and other coastal belts of greater Chittagong arrive to reach better fishing grounds,â€ he said.
One fisherman, Gopal Jaladas, 35, said, â€œI left my traditional profession of fishing three years ago as it was impossible to maintain my family through fishing. Now I work as a day labourer at KEPZ.â€
One 65-year-old seasoned fisherman, Nitto Lal Jaladas, entered the profession at the age of 12 and is still carrying on.
Most fishermen now do not own boats or nets as these are no longer affordable. Some five to eight of them are hired by boat owners for a monthly salary of Tk 10,000, he said.
They usually stay at sea for eight months, getting only a three-to-four-day leave every two months or so to be with their families, he added.
These fishermen are not very happy with the remuneration they get for their fishing voyages.
Expressing his anger, a young fisherman, Prokash Babu Jaladas, said, â€œBoat owners always cheat us saying that the catch was not good. We are paid only one-third of what we are supposed to get.â€
One boat owner, Shuvashish Jaladas, denied the allegation.
â€œWe are not cheating the fishermen. In a day's trip, we invest Tk 1,500 for around 20 litres of diesel and two meals for each fisherman. However, we can not catch enough fish to recoup our investment,â€ he said.
â€œWe always try to pay sufficient wages to all the fishermen we hire,â€ he added.
The community of fishermen in Patenga is not listed yet in District Fisheries Office and so do not get any support, including being issued identity cards and training on disaster preparedness and on tackling piracy.
District Fisheries Officer Provati Devi said, â€œPatenga is not listed in our record books yet. We are taking an initiative for helping them.â€
The fishermen urged the government to pay attention to their needs so that they can sustain their livelihood.
â€œEvery time the media and different organisations console us. But we never get anything. Day by day our lives are becoming worse,â€ said one fisherman, Abdul Karim.