Lack of India, Bangladesh coordination leaves hilsa fish in lurch
Embargo imposed by these countries at different times on catching hilsa fish in Bay of Bengal to allow breeding leaves ban irrelevant
Even as Bangladesh observes a 65-day-long ban to catch hilsa fish to allow its breeding, the continuous fishing from the Indian side leaves this ban irrelevant, say experts.
Hilsa is valued fish for the Bengali population living in Bangladesh and neighboring India.
India also imposes an embargo on fishing of this prized catch, but at a different time.
While Bangladesh observes a ban from May 20 to July 23, India imposes the embargo from April 15 to May 31, and then from Sept. 15 to Oct. 24 on fishing in the sea and country’s main rivers every year.
Therefore, experts are urging both countries to coordinate and observe embargoes at the same time to allow the fish to breed in peace in the Bay of Bengal and the main rivers.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Golam Mostofa Chowdhury, president of Barguna District Fishing Trawler Owners' Association (BDFTOA), said during the time Bangladesh imposes a ban on fishing, Indian trawlers have a field day to catch the fish in the sea.
"Both countries use the same sea for catching Hilsa fish. The embargoes need to be observed by both countries simultaneously,” he said.
He said both Bangladesh and India need to coordinate and save the hilsa fish, which lives in the sea, but during the June-September monsoon, it travels to rivers to breed.
“As Bangladesh and India are the closest neighbors and both countries are passing through the warmest diplomatic relations now, I hope that the government would negotiate with India on this issue immediately,” said Chowdhury.
He said Indian fishing trawlers intrude into Bangladeshi maritime territory quite often – sometimes due to rough weather and at times intentionally.
Almost every year dozens of Indian fishermen are detained by the Bangladeshi Navy and Coast Guard.
Early in September, the Bangladesh Coast Guard detained 13 Indian nationals with a fishing trawler on charges of illegally intruding into Bangladeshi waters.
“We want to see our 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) maritime territory safe, secured and completely dedicated to us without the intrusion of any outsiders,” Fatima Parvin, vice chairman of a local government union council in the southern district of Barguna, told Anadolu Agency.
Needs long term national policy
Referring to the demand of millions of coastal people and the overall interest of the country, Parvin called on the government to adopt a strong and long-term national policy to preserve Hilsa fish.
Experts believe that overfishing and lack of coordination between India and Bangladesh have decimated Hilsa stocks.
Like other thousands of fishermen Aminul Islam Idris, 50, had invested in two fishing trawlers by arranging loans in the hope to catch and sell Hilsa fish.
Nearly 10 million people in 24 coastal districts in Bangladesh are directly and indirectly dependent on this fish, according to a local fishing trade body, according to BDFTOA.
“Almost 100,000 small and big trawlers and boats are currently fishing in the Bay of Bengal and main rivers across the country while approximately 500,000 fishermen are directly engaged,” Chowdhury said.
Besides, tens of thousands of businessmen are involved in the processing and marketing of Hilsa while thousands of laborers fully depended on this big market for their livelihood. There are also thousands of workshops for repairing and making machines for fishing trawlers.
“Whenever there is a scarcity of Hilsa in the sea, we have no money and we suffer from hunger,” Mohammad Sarwar, a local fisherman in the coastal district of Barguna, said.
Bangladeshi Hilsa Padmar Ilish (Hilsa from the Padma River) believed to be superior quality is considered a delicacy in the Indian state of West Bengal.
According to a study conducted last year by Jadavpur University in West Bengal some 15,000 trawlers are hovering in the migratory path of the hilsa resulting in declining its stocks.