The June-September monsoon is the peak fishing season in the Bay of Bengal for more than half a million poor Bangladeshi fishers. But this year, their wooden boats remain moored along the coast. For the first time, the government is enforcing a 65-day ban on all types of marine fishing to promote what the officials say is the conservation of spawning fish and crustacean species. In protest, many crews of artisanal boats took to the streets in May. Without other livelihood options, this ban will force them into more poverty and hardship, they said.
As of June, Bangladesh has 253 trawlers – purpose-built to use trawl nets, owned by seafood industries and licensed to fish in areas beyond 40-metre depth in the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Added to this, according to official estimates, there are almost 68,000 small marine boats including gillnetters, operated by fishers who are artisanal – meaning they do very low-tech, small-scale fishing to make ends meet.
The monsoon ban on all marine fishing was written into law in 2015, but for four years it was only enforced on large trawlers. “Back then we decided not to enforce the ban on artisanal boats because livelihoods of a vast number of people were involved, we considered situations that you see are now unfolding,” said Mohammad Nazim Uddin. Speaking to The Third Pole at his Chittagong office, Nazim, an assistant director at the Marine Fisheries Office, said more than 16,500 people are registered with the agency as artisanal fishers.
According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, most of these coastal fisherfolk are landless. They live on public lands on the edge of the sea or riverine islands. Other than fishing, they have no livelihoods options to feed their families.
“Owner companies of the trawlers will pay the crews during the ban, the main challenge is for fishers of artisanal boats,” said Nazim. “So we decided to progress gradually.” He said that before enforcing the ban on small-scale fishers this year, the agency organised meetings with representatives of their associations several times – to inform the fishers in advance so that they were prepared.
Anticipating a crisis after the ban, authorities have announced limited food relief in 12 coastal districts. Fishing families will get the relief under a decades-old humanitarian assistance programme called Vulnerable Group Feeding designed for poor communities to avoid a temporary food crisis during the lean months of agricultural harvest. Because these coastal communities have no ways of earning income other than fishing in the sea, relief will be distributed among 400,000 coastal fishing families. There would be a monthly ration of 40 kilograms of rice for each family during the ban from May 20 to July 23, said a recent press note by the Department of Fisheries.