Around four lakh fishermen of coastal areas, who are affected by the 65-day ban on fishing in the Bay of Bengal, have been provided with food assistance. Fisheries department sources said, “The ban period of 65 days from 20 May to 24 July is the breeding season of marine fish. The ban on catching fish during this period is enforced in Exclusive Economic Zone EEZ at the Bay of Bengal to ensure safe breeding and conservation of fish and shrimp.”
While a section of the marine fishermen are getting benefits during the fishing ban a vast majority of the fishing labourers who directly depend on catching fish in the Bay are deprived of the benefits as they are not registered and listed in the food assistance. On May 20, 2015, the Fisheries and Livestock Ministry issued a gazette notification prohibiting fishing in the Bay between May 20 and July 23, every year, to allow fish spawning and hence allow increase in fish resources.
Earlier, the ban was only targeted on the 250 industrial trawlers which catch fish 40 meter above the seabed. The contribution of Industrial trawlers is between 15 and 20 percent of total catch of about 6.5 lakh tons of fish from Bay of Bengal per year. The fishing ban from this year have been widened and imposed on all types of fishing trawlers which number around 68,000.
As a result of this ‘unexpected’ decision thousands of fishermen in the coastal areas suddenly found themselves jobless. Majority of the fishermen highly depend on their catch to make their living from the daily, weekly or monthly catch from the Bay. Meanwhile, the government had taken initiative to provide food support to such affected fishermen and their families through food assistance mainly to compensate their earnings.
On Sunday Abul Hasnat, Director of Marine Fisheries Department MFD told Bangladesh Post, “During the 65-day fishing ban we found that a total of 4, 14,784 fishermen are affected each of who receive 40KG rice every month. Till Sunday, around 4, 00,000 fishermen got the food assistance in the first round as part of the move to compensate the affected fishermen.” “However,” he said, “There are more affected ‘fishermen’ in the area who, it is reported, are not listed for the government benefit.”
Hasnat explained, “There are plans to distribute 40 kilograms of rice to each of the affected fishermen by end of May. However, due to lack of communication with people or families living in the remote coastal areas and lack of warehouse facilities to stock the huge quantities of the rice for distribution, rice could not be shipped.”
He continued that in addition, 4,805 fishermen of Sitakunda areas of Chattogram refused to accept this assistance making things difficult.
MFD source said the assistance is only given to registered fishermen who are engaged in fishing in Bay of Bengal. But many fishermen in Patenga and Halishohor and adjoining Sitakunda area aren’t included in this program.
“The fishermen dropped from assistance programme are not registered yet,” Abul Hasnat pointed out. During a visit to coastal areas of Hailsohor in Chattogram on Sunday afternoon many fishermen shared their disappointment and said that because many of them are not registered or enlisted fishermen they are deprived of the food support and so their families are suffering.
Many families who regularly get the food support also complained that the amount of the rice is not sufficient. Devjani Jalodash, mother of seven said, “My husband is a card holder and registered fisherman. Every day my husband and sons go out fishing in the sea. The daily catch fetch reasonably good amount of money to buy enough food for us. But the limited 40 kg rice is no match to what my husband and my sons earn.”
During this correspondents visit to the areas many of the regular veteran fishermen were found sitting idle without having to do anything alternative to earn. Many of Devjani’s neighbors and relatives also depend on fishing at sea, but none of them are registered fishermen.
Shojol Jaladash in his early thirties said, “I work as a daily laborer on a sea bound fishing trawler owned by others, but I could not register because I neither own a fishing boat nor own fishing net (used in the sea). In this coastal area, there are many more fishing labourers like me, who are deprived of the government benefits because they are not registered as fishermen.”
To qualify as an ocean-going fisherman one has to own a boat or fishing net as an evidence. But many labourers who act as supporting member during the fishing in the sea are not recognized fishermen in real terms and so they simply do not get the benefits of the food assistance.
According to ‘Upkoliya Moshojibi Joldash Somobay Kallyan Federation’, an organization working with fishermen in Chattogram region, Most of the affected fishermen are being excluded from the food support program, for this the registered fishermen are refusing to avail the food assistance as a mark of expressing solidarity with their fellow fishermen.
“There are 50,000 fishermen in the area but only 4,808 are listed for assistance,” said Shyamol Palit, an official of the organization. Currently, around 32,500 mechanized engine boats and almost same amount of non- mechanized boats are engaged in fishing in the Bay of Bengal.
Bangladesh is the third largest fish producing country in the world with annual production of about 38 lakh tonnes. Sadly only 17 percent were of the total are collected from the sea.
Bangladesh is included as a pilot country of the Blue-Economy which is considered a key factor to achieve UN-declared 'Sustainable Development Goals'. The government has taken a number of steps to increase the fish resources in the Bay of Bengal. At that time, fishermen were brought under various social safety nets programmes by providing assistance by government.