The adage 'machhe vate Bangalee' (the Banglaess thrive on rice and fish) had somehow been side-lined for a few decades. The famous Malthusian nightmare of population growth surpassing food production and causing immense misery led us to focus on only increasing rice production even at the cost of fish production. Thus the Green Revolution greased the wheel and Bangaldesh is now almost self-sufficient in rice production. Of late we witness a surge in the growth of fish production and marketing that is ushering in a 'Silver revolution'. Fish cultivation also became a player on political plate when, during the 2014 general election, some of the candidates showed fish as the major source of their income. Certainly zero tax on this business.
However, drawing upon Dr. Md. Saifuddin Shah, a retired Professor of Khulna University, it can be argued that "the role of fish in food, nutrition, economy, employment and socio-cultural heritage of the nation is, in a word, enormous. The contribution of fisheries to the national GDP is about 4.0 per cent, and that to the agricultural GDP is roughly one-fourths; in the export sector, more than 2.0 per cent". The ramifications of fish cultivation spill over to a wide range of areas and we shall draw upon Sha's paper heavily, at times in a paraphrased form. It says that sixty per cent of the animal protein supply in people's diet comes from fish; about one-tenths of the total population of the country are dependent on this sector for their livelihoods and of these people a large number is women. The production of fish in the country is increasing every year. During the last decade the annual rate of increase of production was registered at 6.0 per cent; the total fish production was about 4-5 million metric tons.
What are the drivers? The role of fisheries education in bringing out technical manpower to feed the need of research, extension and management in the public and private sectors has been remarkable in the recent decades. Fisheries is now an expanding form of education; degree level fisheries education is now being offered in many public universities of the country and about 700 -800 graduates are coming out each year in the country to take up fisheries and allied positions in different public and private sectors. "The fisheries research organisation - the Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute was established 1984 and now for the last two decades or so discipline-wise adaptive researches have been carried out in different stations and sub-stations of the institute in different parts of the country; quite a number of adaptive technologies on aquaculture, on fisheries management in open waters of rivers, lakes, beels, haors and baors and on fish handling and post-harvest processing have been brought out from the Institute." Moreover, researches of staff and post graduate students in fisheries in the universities have also added to the list of some mentionable fisheries technologies. The Department of Fisheries which is the principal extension, management and development agency, has now satisfactory manpower in the unit extension areas of the country with possible effective diffusion level of information in the field.
Development of the fisheries sector of Bangladesh during the past two decades or so has been mainly 'donor-driven' and impetus has particularly been given to the improvement and expansion of aquaculture sector with the allocation of major funding over the period in early years. At about the same time a number of innovative programmes were taken up in the country to develop and protect water bodies, increase fish production, facilitate access of the poor to the fishery enterprises, develop fish marketing channel, support private sector, fish seed multiplication, involving the local communities to manage water bodies in a way that optimises production, protects poor fishermen's interests, and diversify water uses in an environment-friendly manner.
Unfortunately though, open water fisheries got a setback in the wake of rice dish getting richer through the advent of embankments and lust for growing modern rice. The decrease of the share of capture production from such vast waters of beels, haors, baors, lakes, flood plains, coastal flat lands and other traditional waters like khals and lakes is alarming. Open water fisheries has got to do with management and conservation and looking into the existing dwindling nature of open water capture fisheries, it is apprehended that there must have been some gross errors/ inattention paid in the overall process of management on the part of the agencies involved including the Directorate of Fisheries (DoF). Researchers on fisheries opine that common property right of the aquatic resources, population pressure-linked overexploitation and lack of biological management are seen to be the principal reasons why the open water production dwindled over the years. "The multifaceted inter-sectoral conflicts in the open water fisheries management must be seriously looked into. Of all the sectors with which the open water capture fisheries has the most direct and damaging conflict is the agriculture. Embanking the major rivers for flood protection for increased rice production has thwarted the usual lateral and longitudinal breeding and nursery ground migration of the riverine species for many years; the flood plains fisheries recruitment from the rivers have been seriously damaged by the lack of fish pass and / or lack of judicious management of the existing sluice gates on the mouth of the rivers/khals having connection with the flood plains. Other conflicts are water use for irrigation for winter cropping; use of insecticides/pesticides in the crop fields, construction of roads, bridges, culverts, thereby blocking the passage of local migration of fishes." The abundance and biodiversity of the open water species has been drastically reduced and without protection of the open water fisheries biodiversity which is considered to be a repository of the gene pool of the cultured stocks, the aquaculture biology and production cannot be sustained in the long run.
Particularly for fish, both demand and supply side factors worked. The rise of per capita income along with awareness about dietary basket and the concomitant development in communication led to the expansion of the sub-sector. The multiplier and linkage effects are enormous. Both green and silver revolution should go hand in hand because we are 'machhe vate Bangalee. This calls for a policy shift towards non-rice commodities with due research, extension and incentives.
Abdul Bayes is a former Professor of Economics at Jahangirnagar University.
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