Fishery deserves greater attention  

Abdul Bayes     | Published: March 01, 2019 22:26:10

The contribution of fishery to the nation's GDP is estimated to be about 4.0 per cent, and that to the agricultural GDP comes close to one-fourth. Agricultural exports are still struggling with a contribution of only 2.0 per cent or more to the total earnings.  The ramifications of fish cultivation spill over to a wide range of areas including income generation and nutrition at household level. It would perhaps be pertinent at this stage to draw upon, at times paraphrased even, from a paper by Dr. Md. Saifuddin Shah, a retired Professor of Khulna University. The paper seemingly argues that sixty per cent of the animal protein supply in the diet of our people comes from fish. In addition,  about one-tenth of the total population of the country is dependent on this sector for their livelihoods where a large chunk is women. The production of fish in the country is increasing every year at an appreciable rate. During the last decade the annual rate of increase of production was registered at 6.0 per cent and in 2014-2015 fish production totalled to about 4.0 million metric tons.

In the chronicle of development of fisheries of the country, mentions must have to be made about the determinant factors that have gone in the form of education and knowledge build-up in fisheries, in general.  Professor Shah is of the view that 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. The first ever formal fisheries education was instituted in the then East Pakistan Agricultural University, Mymensingh and technical fishery graduates had started coming out since after liberation of Bangladesh. Fisheries are now an expanding form of education; degree level fisheries education is now being offered in 12 out of the 35 public universities of the country and about 700 graduates are coming out each year in the country to take up fisheries and allied positions in different public and private sectors. The Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute was established in 1984. 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 developed at the institute. Moreover, the researches of staff and post graduate students in fisheries in the universities have also added to the list of some mentionable fisheries technologies in the country. 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 last two decades or so has been mainly 'donor-driven' and impetus have particularly been given for improvement and expansion of aquaculture sector with the allocation of around 60 per cent  of the funding over the period from 1986-2005. 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 optimizes production, protects the poor fishers' interests, and diversify water uses in an environment-friendly manner.

Professor Saifuddin Shah then shows how open water fisheries got a setback in the wake of rice dish getting richer through the advent of embankments and craving for growing modern rice. The area of open water and closed water in Bangladesh is estimated to be about 4.0 million and 0.7 million ha respectively. The contribution of open water production to the total production used to be to the tune of 70-75 per cent during 1970s. 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 water bodies like canals is alarming. Open water fisheries have got to do with management and conservation. Looking into the existing dwindling nature of open water capture fisheries, it is apprehended that there must have been some gross errors or inattention to the overall process of management on the part of the agencies involved including the Directorate of Fisheries (DoF). Common property right of the aquatic resources, population pressure-linked over exploitation 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 fishery 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 agriculture. Embanking of 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'... 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." Further, the abundance and biodiversity of the open water species has been drastically reduced and without having been able to protect the open water fisheries biodiversity which is considered to be repository of the gene pool of the cultured stocks, the aquaculture biology and production cannot be sustained in the long run.

With increased per capita income and rising awareness about health and nutrition, the demand for this income-elastic commodity would rise faster. We can watch around the awesome availability of fish in cities and towns. However, the government should firm up a fish policy with a view to ensuring a sustainable development of the sector otherwise 'The Tragedy of the Commons" might result in from unplanned and over exploitations of fish habitat by the profiteers.

Abdul Bayes is a former Professor of Economics at Jahangirnagar Universsity

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