Fishing ban in Bangladesh is a bilateral issue

India and Myanmar need to harmonise regulations to ensure both fishers and fish are protected

Previously Published: The Daily Star

The coastal communities in Bangladesh, with their heavy reliance on the sea for survival, are facing multifaceted threats to their traditional way of life. We need to act now to protect the rights and livelihoods of our coastal fishers who depend on marine resources as their primary source of income.

The government’s introduction of a 65-day fishing ban in 2015 – May 20 to July 23 – was an important step towards conserving fish stocks and encouraging sustainable fishing practices. However, the ban has brought about new issues that demand attention and require collaborative efforts to ensure the well-being of coastal communities who are directly affected by the ban.

Foremost among the challenges faced by Bangladeshi fishers during the ban is the intrusion of Indian fishers into Bangladeshi waters. As a research assistant, I was involved in a research project conducted by the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD), which revealed that an overwhelming 85 percent of coastal fishers raised concerns about this intrusion. This sentiment was also echoed by a media personality, who voiced his concerns on social media after this year’s ban commenced.

Meanwhile, statistics provided by Save Our Sea revealed stark realities from the ground: eight million tonnes of fish are caught annually from the Bay of Bengal, but Bangladeshi fishers only manage to catch 70,000 tonnes. This is because India’s fishing ban ends earlier (on 14 June, starting from 15 April) than Bangladesh’s ban, which is likely to end on July 23. It is highly likely that Indian fishers will exploit Bangladeshi waters when the fish have matured by the end of June. Aligning the ban periods between the two countries will not only be appropriate but also increase fish production, mutually benefitting both nations.

The lack of coordination and enforcement between Bangladesh and India undermines the purpose of the ban. This results in Indian fishers encroaching upon Bangladeshi waters and further depleting fish stocks. To effectively protect the livelihoods of coastal fishers on both sides, it is imperative that both nations work together to establish comprehensive agreements and robust monitoring mechanisms to prevent such intrusion.

The implementation of the fishing ban also throws the lives of Bangladeshi fishers into turmoil, as their livelihoods are affected during this period. Although the government provides some relief measures, they fall woefully short of meeting the needs of the affected communities. Compounding this challenge is the issue of unfair relief distribution, with fishers expressing concerns that local governments favour only a select few when providing assistance.

To address these pressing issues, it is imperative for the government to prioritise monitoring of the distribution process and ensure fairness and accuracy in identifying those in need. Additionally, long-term solutions must be implemented, such as skill development programmes, access to alternative livelihoods, and improved social safety nets, to mitigate the adverse effects of the fishing ban on coastal fishers.

The grievances expressed by coastal communities should not go unheard. These fishers, who contribute significantly to the country’s economy and food security, deserve recognition and support. It is imperative to establish transparent and inclusive governance that not only listens to the voices and concerns of coastal fishers, but also takes effective actions to address them. Collaboration among government bodies, civil society organisations, and local communities can lead to the formulation of policies that ensure the sustainability of fishing practices while protecting the rights and well-being of coastal fishers.

Addressing the challenges faced by coastal fishers also necessitates international cooperation. Bangladesh should engage in bilateral and regional dialogues with its neighbouring countries, India and Myanmar, to establish harmonised regulations and enforce stronger measures against illegal fishing. By promoting information sharing, joint patrols, and adoption of technology, collective efforts can effectively combat cross-border illegal fishing and preserve precious marine resources.

In addition to these pressing concerns, fishers in Bangladesh find themselves burdened by another challenge – exploitation by those who claim to be “protectors of the ocean.” Reports have surfaced of naval police, foresters, and coast guard personnel engaging in extortion, adding to the frustrations of coastal communities. It is disheartening that the very individuals entrusted with safeguarding these fishers have become perpetrators themselves, exacerbating the plight of those already struggling to make ends meet.

Immediate and comprehensive measures are required to address the multifaceted challenges faced by coastal fishers in Bangladesh. While the fishing ban is a crucial step towards promoting sustainability, it must be accompanied by robust strategies that protect the rights and livelihoods of these communities. Transparent and inclusive governance, collaboration between nations, and international cooperation are key elements in ensuring the well-being and prosperity of coastal fishers. At the end of the day, the fishers struggling to find ends meet are also citizens of this nation.

Mehedi Hasan Marofis a journalism student at University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh (ULAB) and research assistant at the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD). His twitter handle is @mehedimarof