First it was, and still is, the covid-19 since mid-March, then cyclone Amphan in May, and now the flooding of vast swathes of fish farming regions across the country. At the beginning, due to unofficial lockdown people associated with aquaculture were mostly hit by the lack of marketing avenues caused by country-wide movement restrictions and poor prices, and just when things seemed to take a slightly better turn with restrictions gradually lifted, it was the super storm Amphan that seriously affected fish farms in the southern region of the country. Now, with floods sparing hardly any region, the fisheries sector is the victim of the worst kind.
The north and central regions of the country are totally inundated taking extremely heavy toll on fish farms-- big and small. Already, there were two spells of flooding, and one more -- a lingering one -- is feared to last even beyond the month of August. According to reports, till late July, losses of fresh water aquaculture farmers have been estimated to be around Tk 2.20 billion. The Department of Fisheries (DoF) data showed that nearly 30,000 farmers having 35,000 inland fish farms were affected by the flood, so far. With the major rivers still above the danger level inundating fresh areas, the scale of loss will most likely rise, particularly in the northwest, northeast and central regions. Observers feel that unless fish farmers, particularly those running fish nurseries and farms, are brought under the ambit of the stimulus package earlier announced for making up covid-induced losses, they may not at all be in a position to ride out the colossal losses. What is particularly important here to note is that numerous inland fish farmers all over the country rely on open water bodies for fresh water fishes given the increasing demand in domestic market. Having been washed away, these open water bodies are no longer a source of income for months.
The fisheries sector comprising both marine and inland segments is a fast expanding one. According to a study, the sector employs 17 million people in various stages of catching, farming, handling and processing of fish. The country ranks fifth globally in its fish production, and by 2021, it is projected to be more than 5.0 million tons. A good deal of the current accomplishments and future projection must be attributed to inland fresh water fish farming which took decades of hard labour, huge investment, and introduction of technology and scientific knowledge.
The damages due to the floods preceded by covid-19 and Amphan need not be exaggerated at all. What is critically important at this stage is to quickly assess the nature and scale of the damage, and firm up a comprehensive support package for the sector. In this regard, it is important to note that the money in soft credit from the stimulus package should be managed and monitored with all seriousness by the relevant state agencies. Consultation with the respective business association may also be helpful in reaching out to the target group.