Fish is an integral part of food habit of people in Bangladesh. About 19 million people are directly and indirectly involved in this sector. Contribution of the fisheries sector to the national GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is 3.57 per cent. Fish production in Bangladesh reached 4.3 million tonnes in 2019, which is about a six-time increase from 1980, whereas the country’s population increased a little over two times during this period.
Bangladesh has always abounded with inland capture fisheries and different aquatic fauna and flora, and until 1960, those were enough to meet the daily needs of domestic protein and other necessities. At present, about 260 fish species of different sizes, color and taste from darkina to rohu and about 34 species of chingri from gurachingri to goldachingri are available in the country. But fish biodiversity and its production from inland capture fisheries have witnessed a serious decline, with efforts in rice production and construction of flood control, drainage and irrigations projects (FCD & FCDI) intensifying around the country.
In the 1960s, Bangladesh gradually stepped into pond aquaculture through a collection of carp seeds from large rivers. Later by means of a decade of dedicated efforts, including recruitment of a large number of technical fisheries graduates, the Department of Fisheries (DoF) established itself as a prominent department of the government and started promotion of aquaculture of carps and shrimps/prawns in the country.
The production of fish and fishery products was merely about 0.8 million metric tonnes in 1980s. Through the concerted efforts of the Department of Fisheries (DoF), Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute (BFRI) and Bangladesh Fisheries Development Corporation (BFDC), universities and private sector initiatives, the fisheries sector has gradually overcome the problems related to fish breeding, feeds and feeding and pond water quality management and developed diversified modern production technologies. Thus, the growth of the fisheries sector has surpassed an all-time record again with a current fish production of 4.3 million tonnes. Now we are a leading fish producing country in the world.
Dream for future
The current fish production has made Bangladesh self-sufficient with a surplus of about 250,000 tonnes of exportable fin and shell fishes. We have the potential of producing up to 6.5-7.0 million metric tonnes over next 15-20 years. In doing so, all ponds should be brought under the scientific modern aquaculture. We have to triple the per unit production from all ponds through mechanisation. In the future, all rice fields located in the relatively low-lying areas may be used for two crops of rice production and one crop of fish production.
We need to bring about a paradigm shift in shrimp aquaculture. Instead of low production gher system, we need to introduce the pond-based culture system with smaller units and bottom-lined system with aeration. Freshwater prawn culture in ‘gher’ may continue with diversification through other fin fishes and integration of planned dyke-cropping. Except the current PLs issue, our gher system is so far unique in the world. Mud crab is another highly desired species due to its taste and delicacy, grown in the southeastern countries.
Bangladesh needs to pick up its pace in coastal and marine finfish farming. One most promising and much-talked-about species is sea bass, in which breeding we haven’t made any success. Its culture is in progress from natural source of seeds but we need to hasten our success in the sea bass breeding. Sea bass has a big market at home and abroad. Not only sea-bass, at least five marine and brackish water fish species should be bred in the next five to ten years to bring a true success to support our much-cherished blue economy.
We have made a commendable success in Hilsa fish conservation and management. Bangladesh is the largest producer of Hilsa with a production of over 0.5 million tonnes that has made us the third inland capture fish producer in the world over the last four years. We have the potential of producing 0.7 million tonnes of Hilsa from coastal rivers and marine environment. We may start export of Hilsa and value added Hilsa products keeping 0.5 for domestic consumption. The river catfish Pangas may be conserved by refraining from catching of small Pangas using detrimental traps, Chai.
Marine fish production is low and contributes only about 15 per cent to total fish production, but there is a room for doubling this production in 10 years next. Marine fish catch increased in 2019, possibly due to 65 days of marine fishing ban. Both marine fish conservation and sustainable exploitable should go hand in hand to increase biodiversity and production of fish and crustaceans from the Bay of Bengal.
Strengthen research and extension efforts
The BFRI and universities will continue to develop diversified production technologies and better management practices for both the aquaculture and small-scale fisheries as well as support the government with policy frameworks. We need to strengthen research on genetically improvement of carps, low cost plant-based feeds, best practices and diseases control, mechanisation in aqua-farming, and production of value- added products.
The DoF will strengthen its efforts in training and dissemination of modern aquaculture technologies and high yield carp variety (HYCV), and enhance conservation and management of hilsa and marine fishes, ensuring participation of various stakeholders. We need to modernise our fish landing and post-harvest facilities including provision of improved cold chain. BFDC may introduce countrywide marketing of farmed and harvested fishes in insulated vans.
A transformative approach of generous public support for resilient coastal fishing communities is essential to reap the benefits of blue economy and improve the compliance of conservation measures. Our concerted and consistent efforts towards science-based sustainable management of coastal and marine fisheries by improving the resilience of the ecosystems and coastal communities reliant on it will translate our dream into reality with increased marine fish catch and realising the blue economy. We are not far away when fish and fisheries products from Bangladesh will find large overseas markets.
The writer is the team leader of the USAID-funded ECOFISH II project of WorldFish Bangladesh.