The demand for withdrawal of a 65-day ban the government imposes on marine fishing in the Bay of Bengal every year should be brought under closer scrutiny. Obviously, the rationale behind such a ban is to allow breeding of different species of fish in the exclusive economic zone of the Bay. Now the area on which the ban is imposed needs to be clearly specified. Does it cover the area the country's fishing boats and trawlers usually go for their catches -at a distance no more than 20 nautical miles or the entire area of exclusive economic zone stretching up to 200 nautical miles where only modern vessels can venture into? A ban on Hilsha fishing during their spawning season has proved highly successful. This fancied fish come to lay their eggs in the sweet water of the country's rivers but not the other marine fishes.
If such a ban on marine fishing during the breeding season is imposed to augment the population of such fishes, there should be no argument against it. Now the demarcation of the area where marine fishes spawn should be made on the basis of a scientific study. It should be an informed decision so that it leaves no room for controversy. The protesters, however, complain that neighbouring countries do not impose any such ban on marine fishing. This, again, does not rule out a ban provided that the facts and figures of an extensive study are conclusive in favour of it. In that case, an integrated approach to augmenting marine fish population involving India and Myanmar should be most welcome.
Here the contention needs some elaboration. Until now the trawlers and wooden boats used for fishing in the Bay cannot venture into deep sea. Usually their range is within 20 nautical miles. This means, 180 nautical miles of the Bay of Bengal remain virtually inaccessible to them. Here is an issue of immense importance. The area that is yet to be covered by the country's existing fleet of fishing boats and trawlers are unaffected by the ban unless deep sea-going foreign vessels illegally fish there which often is reported. Even an impact will be felt if there is overfishing. It is against this backdrop, the interests of the 0.35 million fishermen and 28,000 fishing boat owners come to the fore. Fishermen, in particular, are in a dire strait during the ban. The authorities have been giving some financial assistance to them for tiding over the crisis. But it is no more than a pittance. So the need is to reasonably raise the monetary help.
Deep-sea fishing is where the future of fishermen lies. The sea is full of different species of fish. Bangladesh fishermen lack in skills and requisite vessels to exploit the huge resources within its 200-nautical-mile territorial waters. Boat owners should be encouraged to procure advanced sea-going fishing vessels and fishermen imparted training for the purpose. Experts are of the opinion that such fishing vessels can have abundant catches in the deep sea and export those to earn a good amount of foreign exchange for the country.