Bangladesh should urgently create a new ministry to lead and oversee coordinated efforts in unlocking the full potentials of the blue economy ranging from the sustainable development of marine fisheries to sea and coastal tourism, experts working on this field have said, reports UNB.
They suggested the formation of a separate ministry on blue economy noting that the existing Blue Economy Cell under the Energy and Mineral Resources Division has failed to make any breakthrough to exploit the potentials in the Bay of Bengal.
In interviews with UNB over the past week, the experts observed that the government has taken various measures aimed at exploiting the vast marine resources since settling the maritime boundary disputes with neighbouring India and Myanmar nearly a decade ago.
But these have mostly been related to fishing, establishing disciplines in different universities, marine institutes and academies and formulating different laws in this field, according to experts from different universities.
There is still no adequate allocation for research, no attention to developing the value chain and market of seaweed, no visible initiative to assess the stocks of non-living marine resources including mineral resources, they said.
Dr Md Kawser Ahmed, Professor of Oceanography Department at Dhaka University, said a number of ministries and government agencies are currently related to the blue economy, but they are working in scattered ways.
“A coordinated initiative is needed to tap the full potentials of the blue economy. So, it is essential to form a separate ministry like the Ministry of Ocean Affairs,” he suggested.
“We can add 3-4 per cent to our existing GDP growth if we are able to ensure the optimum exploitation of the blue economy,” he estimates.
Referring to the establishment of marine-related disciplines in different universities, Prof Kawser said there is not enough fund and technology for research which are the main barriers to create skilled manpower in this sector.
Alongside the traditional fishing, Bangladesh needs to pay attention to commercial production of tuna, other high-valued fish and seaweed, he mentions.
“We’ve to take effective measures immediately to unlock the potentials of blue economy as we’re already so much lately,” said the oceanography professor.
Prof Sayedur Rahman Chowdhury of the Institute of Marine Sciences and Fisheries at Chittagong University said 9-10 ministries are related to the blue economy. The fisheries and education ministries have worked much in this regard.
The government has also enacted blue economy-related laws. “But no visible progress is seen in other sectors,” he said.
He said a strong body instead of the existing blue economy cell is needed to design and execute plans for sustainable fishing, creating skilled manpower, developing shipping industry, coastal and sea tourism, assess non-living resources particularly mineral resources, assess the feasibility of renewable energy.
Noting that Bangladesh can largely be benefitted from sustainable fishing, he said empirical evidence indicates that large fish species like Lakkha and Coral, which were available in past years, are not found as frequently anymore. Other valuable fishes are also in decline, and relatively low-value fishes are taking up their place, he said.
Prof Chowdhury said Bangladesh can also focus on producing highly skilled maritime human resources, including marine engineers, navigators and other highly technical trades, targeted for the international employment market to boost foreign currency remittance.
Besides, a lot of foreign currency goes outside the country against container transports as most of the carriers used in this sector are owned by foreign companies.
About energy and mineral resources, Prof Chowdhury said he is not much optimistic about any huge reserves in the Bay of Bengal.
Dr Subrata Sarker, Chair of Oceanography Department at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, said the government should concentrate on research and survey not only on fisheries but also other marine resources.
“We’ve to focus on commercially important species,” he said adding that the government has put much attention to fisheries and promoting the related education.
Noting that there is a huge potential of seaweed, Dr Sarker said, “But its value chain is now missing, though it can contribute to our economy.”
He said there are multipurpose uses of seaweeds as these are used as food, raw materials of pharmaceutical and beverage items. Now seaweeds are served in restaurants in Cox’s Bazar.
Dr Sarker said there is a huge prospect of coastal tourism. So, it should develop ecotourism not harming nature in the coastal areas, he added.
Bangladesh won a total of 131,098 square kilometres of sea areas –111,631sq km against Myanmar in 2012 and 19,467sq km against India in 2014 — following the disposal of longstanding disputes between the two neighbouring countries — India and Myanmar — by two international courts.
In 2016, Bangladesh procured a research vessel, equipped with the latest technology for fisheries and other oceanographic research, from Malaysia to assess the country’s marine living resources.
The 37.8-meter-long multipurpose research vessel titled ‘RV Meen Sandhani’ started its assessment in the Bay in November 2016 and it has so far detected 457 species of marine fish and animals by conducting 31 survey cruises in the Bay of Bengal.