The fisheries sector plays a significant role in Bangladesh's economic and social development in terms of earning foreign exchange, generating employment and ensuring nutritional and food security. As per the Department of Fisheries (DoF), Bangladesh, in 2017-18 fiscal year, the fisheries sector contributed 3.57 percent to national GDP. In terms of livelihood, about 11 percent of the population depends directly and indirectly on the fisheries sector of the country (Annual Report 2017, DoF, Bangladesh).
In Bangladesh, the major fisheries resources are categorised into three sub-sectors: Inland capture, inland culture, and marine fisheries. According to Department of Fisheries, in FY 2017-18, of the total fisheries resources in the country, inland culture constituted 56.24 percent followed by the inland capture (28.45 percent), and marine fisheries (15.31 percent).
In case of production, in FY 2017-18, Bangladesh produced a total of around 427.66 lakh metric tonne (MT) fish and fish products, of which, the number of inland fisheries (capture and culture) was around 362.20 lakh MT and marine fisheries around 65.47 lakh MT.
It is encouraging to note that Bangladesh ranks third in inland fish production and 11th in marine fish production (FAO, 2018). The Bay of Bengal is a gift of nature to Bangladesh. For the country, a new horizon opened up through gaining additional vast areas of the sea following the final settlement of the Bay of Bengal's long time maritime boundary disputes with her two neighbours: Myanmar on March 14, 2012, and India on July 7, 2014. Now, Bangladesh is entitled to 118,813 square km of water area in the Bay of Bengal, and all kinds of living and non-living resources under the continental shelf extending to 354 nm from the Chittagong coast.
The Bay of Bengal is a hub of marine fisheries resources. According to the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock (MoFL, 2014), in the Bay of Bengal, there are 475 different species of fish. As per the Fisheries Resources Survey System (FRSS), Bangladesh 2017-18, generally, Hilsa, Sardine, Bombay duck, Indian Salmon, Pomfret, Jewfish, Catfish, Rayfish, etc. are some of the dominant commercial fish species in the Bay of Bengal.
Since the settlement of the maritime boundaries disputes with the two neighbouring countries- Myanmar and India, marine fisheries production in Bangladesh has grown at an annual average rate of three percent from 2014-15 to 2017-18. In FY2017-18, total marine fisheries production has increased by 9.1 percent to 654687 MT compared to 599846 MT in the FY 2014-15.
Bangladeshi fishermen are still using a traditional or artisanal fish method for fishing and fishing activity is only confined within a 200-meter depth, which is acting as a hindrance to catching a large number of marine fishes.
However, it is encouraging to observe that industrial marine fish production has seen substantial progress during the FY 2014-15 to 2017-18, which is due to some level of technological adaptation combined with the increased fishing area.
According to the United Nations, marine fisheries directly or indirectly employ over 200 million people. Again, according to Water Encyclopedia, more than six billion people on Earth consume an average of 15.4 kilograms of seafood (marine and fresh-water plants and animals) each year, and most of the seafood comes from a combination of capture fisheries (commercial, recreational, or subsistence) and aquaculture.
Studies show that marine fishes carry nutritional, medicinal, industrial, and other significant values. In this sense, marine fisheries resources in Bangladesh have enormous potential to turn out to be one of the major export items and thus, it can bring about socio-economic changes to the coastal people.
However, there is still a long way to go to realise the untapped potential of marine fisheries resources in Bangladesh. Keeping this fact in mind, some suggestions are made below.
Addressing technical and management issues
In Bangladesh, a large proportion of marine fishing is still done traditionally due to technological constraints. Artisanal or traditional fishing is still higher than industrial fish production as it generally requires high capital investment and recurring costs. Currently, there are 253 industrial fishing trawlers, and only 63 trawlers having the freezing capacity (FRSS, 2017-18; Annual report, DoF, 2017).
The government should introduce capital subsidy schemes for importing advanced trawlers to enable fishing in large quantities in the deep-sea area. Furthermore, it is also imperative to keep the provision of training programs for marine fishers to ensure better management practices in terms of marine fish production, maintaining quality, processing, and preservation.
Dealing with the problem of overexploitation of the on-shore fishing
In the Bay of Bengal, the fishermen often catch fish from the same place time and again from the near-shore areas which lead to the decline in some of the fish population and fish species. The reason might be attributed to financial constraints or lack of fishing equipment. And because of those constraints, they remain in dire need of selling fish even at the lowest prices to the middlemen to meet up their daily needs, to pay hiring costs of fishing equipment, as well as to repay loans.
In this backdrop, to stop over-exploitation of marine fisheries and to ensure sustainable fishing, initiatives need to be taken to empower the fishers through ensuring their accesses to finance under easy terms and conditions, reducing middlemen intervention in terms of catching and selling of fish, and ensuring a fair price for their products through connecting them directly to the market.
Implementing Fisheries Act 2019 for safeguarding the marine fisheries resources
On December 30, 2019, the cabinet of Bangladesh has approved the draft of the Marine Fisheries Act, 2019. The act has set the provisions of three years jail term and Tk5 crore as the highest penalty for foreign vessels for fishing in Bangladesh territory. In this regard, Bangladesh navy and Coast Guards should be proactive to carry out regular drives to protect marine fisheries and other resources.
Addressing sea pollution for ensuring a healthy marine ecosystem
Globally, ocean pollution is now being considered one of the serious environmental crises. It is taking its toll on the marine ecosystems, and could even lead to the extinction of entire species such as fish and shellfishes, birds, sea turtles, and other marine mammals.
Bangladesh Maritime Zones Act, 2018 (draft), has emphasised preserving and protecting the marine environment to prevent and control marine pollution. Therefore, to curb sea pollution and ensure healthy marine eco-system, it is imperative to implement the act.
At the same time, awareness should be built among the industry owners, ocean-going ships and tourists in terms of properly disposing of plastic bottles and other products, food waste, cigarette butts, industrial waste and toxic materials as well as other items that deem harmful to the marine ecosystem. And most importantly, cleaning activities through picking up garbage and litter should be carried out at the beaches or on the shore of the sea on a regular basis.
Md. Sajib Hossain, Environmental Economics graduate, Dhaka School of Economics (DScE), currently working as Senior Assistant Secretary, Research and Development Cell, BKMEA. He can be reached at email@example.com
Nahin Mahfuz Seam, undergraduate student of Environmental and Resource Economics Programme, Dhaka School of Economics (DScE). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org