Overfishing leads to a decline in Bangladesh’s marine fish stocks and their diversity
- Bangladesh is facing a decline in marine fish stocks and their diversity due to lack of knowledge among fishermen, proper implementation of the Marine Fisheries Act and rampant use of industrial fishing vessels and unauthorized fishing gear in permitted fishing areas.
- The country has a 710 km (440 mi) coastline with 121,110 km2 (46,760 sq mi) of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) within the Bay of Bengal, and is a hub for 740 aquatic species.
- The marine fisheries sector contributes about 15% of the total fish production in Bangladesh, which helps meet the population’s animal protein needs.
Despite enacting various laws and regulations, old and new, Bangladesh has faced a decline in marine fish stocks and their diversity over the years, thanks to the rampant use of industrial fishing vessels and unauthorized fishing gear in permitted fishing areas.
A study suggests that 475 species of marine fish were present in 1971 in Bangladesh, while the numbers decreased to 394 in 2021 due to various human activities, including fishing of small fish, over-exploitation, obstructions to migration routes, pollution and climate change.
For example, it is alleged that industrial fishing vessels often fish at a depth of 40 meters (131 feet) from the sea where only artisanal fishermen are allowed to carry out their activities.
Mustafizur Rahman, a Chittagong-based fisherman, has been fishing in the Bay of Bengal for 40 years; He described the scarcity this way: “In order to earn a modest income for one week, my colleagues and I would stay at sea almost 24 hours a week, until 20 years ago. But nowadays, we must venture twice for the same period to get the same amount of fish.
Another important thing is that at one time, the diversity of fish was greater, but now fishermen can only find a few species, he added.
Acknowledging this problem, Syed MD Alamgir, Director-General of Bangladesh Fisheries Department, said the combined effect of destructive fishing in the Bay of Bengal with violation of regulations has significantly destabilized the resource base of coastal fisheries. Due to increasing pressure on the marine fishing industry, artisanal fishing is now too low-paid for many fishermen to make a living.
Marine resources and overexploitation
Bangladesh has a 710 km (440 mi) coastline with 121,110 km2 (46,760 sq mi) of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) within the Bay of Bengal, and is a hub for 740 aquatic species.
In addition, there are 36 species of shrimp, five species of lobster, 12 species of crab, 33 species of sea cucumbers, and a host of other marine creatures. The marine fisheries sector contributes about 15% of the total fish production in Bangladesh, which helps meet the population’s animal protein needs.
According to the Department of Fisheries, artisanal fishing with mechanical and non-mechanical equipment is permitted to a depth of 40 metres, while the depth of industrial fishing vessels is limited to 40-200 meters (130-660 feet). Longline and purse seine vessels are permitted to operate up to 200 meters to the end of the EEZ and the area beyond national jurisdiction.
According to the Fisheries Department’s 2020-21 Annual Report, about 231 of the 262 industrial fishing vessels were active in the 2020-21 fiscal year. Apart from this, there were 67,669 mechanized boats and artisans engaged in traditional fishing in the Bay of Bengal. A range of traditional near-shore artisanal fishing boats use relatively simpler gear such as gill nets, bag nets and triple nets, which include three to five fish traps.
Motorized boats carrying ice cubes often fish at a depth of 40 meters for seven to nine days. Approximately 15-30 fishermen work there, depending on the size and type of fishing gear.
In addition, there are bottom trawlers, mid-water trawlers, and shrimp trawlers. The total tonnage of the industrial fishing fleet is divided into two groups: frozen fishing vessels (251-668 metric tons) with steel hulls, and vessels with wooden hulls (56-148 metric tons).
Given the negative impacts, the government has not issued any new fishing licenses to industrial fishing vessels (medium-water trawlers, bottom trawlers, or shrimp trawlers) since 2015.
To reduce pressures on fishing and ensure sustainable management of fisheries and resources, a ban has been imposed on fishing in coastal areas using destructive gear such as set nets (Water behind), push nets (shrimp seine collection nets), and other destruction equipment in coastal areas of the sea.
Since demersal trawling harms the breeding and nursery grounds at sea, the provision of new licenses for demersal trawlers has also been discontinued, demersal trawlers are being converted to mid-water trawlers, and 68 demersal trawlers have been converted to mid-water trawlers. . Alamgir said that so far, 68 demersal fishing vessels have been converted into medium-water fishing vessels by the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock.
According to Bangladesh Fisheries Statistics 2021-22, the country’s total fish production is about 4.8 million tons. About 0.7 million tons of that comes from marine catches.
According to the data, 3.6% more marine fish were caught in the previous fiscal year. Interestingly, the production of industrial fishing vessels increased by 15% during this period.
Penade shrimp stocks, especially tiger shrimp, are under pressure from multiple fishing sectors, said Noor Qayyum Khan, managing director of MN Fishing Ltd., a member of the Bangladesh Marine Fisheries Association. Thus, there is a risk of depletion that may affect the livelihoods of coastal fishermen and the entire coastal shrimp sector. If this happens, it will have a disastrous impact on the country’s economy.
As a preventive administrative measure, in 2000 the government declared a distance of 698 km2 (269 mi2) A marine protected area in the Bay of Bengal to protect and preserve marine fish resources. Hunting is restricted in this area.
In 2019, the government announced a length of 3,188 km2 (1,230 mi2) Negom Dwip District and the adjacent Hatia District, in the Noakhali coastal district, are designated as the Negom Dwip Marine Protected Area.
According to the Marine Fisheries Law of 2020, industrial fishing vessels, whether imported or locally manufactured, must adhere to specifications set by the government. Failure to meet these specifications will result in the refusal of registration of these fishing vessels.
To promote spawning and conserve marine fisheries resources, all types of vessels are prohibited from fishing in the Bay of Bengal for 65 days, from May 20 to July 23, every year.
To ensure the reproduction of these species, the government has imposed an annual ban for 22 days during the peak breeding season of the species.
However, some fishermen expressed their dissatisfaction with the new regulation and demanded that it be changed, claiming that it would severely impact their fishing operations. Their main concerns stem from the law’s harsh penal sections, which stipulate long prison sentences and huge penalties for violating hunting rules.
In this regard, Khan said that many owners of industrial fishing vessels are planning to abandon the fishing business, as their fishing days are decreasing and so is their income, and the ban and strict regulations have made fishing operations financially unsustainable.
Banner image: Fishing ship in Bangladesh. Photo by Muhammad Mahabubur Rahman/WorldFish via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
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Rahman, M.J., Nahiduzzaman, M. Wahab, M.A. (2021). Threats to fish biodiversity in Bangladeshi waters and measures to revive declining populations. Journal of Indian Society of Coastal Agriculture and Research. doi:10.54894/JISCAR.39.2.2021.111076
Habib, K. A. and Islam, M. J. (2020). Updated checklist of marine fishes of Bangladesh. Bangladesh Fish Magazine. pp. 357-367. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/24391195-editor17bjf-ms-101_2020_habibetal?response=1&title=1