Bangladesh: Tough days for coastal fishermen

DHAKA (The Daily Star/ANN) - Many fishermen affected by the 65-day fishing ban at sea don’t have ID cards, can’t get govt incentives.

Thousands of fishermen in the coastal areas are facing tough times as they cannot get the government compensation for a 65-day ban on fishing at sea.

The government allocated 40kg of rice as an incentive for fishermen during the ban. However, only those who hold the government fisherman ID card will be eligible to receive the incentive.

The ban is a setback for the fishing community, and even more so for the fishermen still waiting to obtain the ID card.

There are around 4.14 lakh fishermen with ID cards in the 12 coastal districts, Abu Sayed Md Rashedul Haque, director general of the Department of Fisheries (DoF) told The Daily Star. There is an ongoing process to get all the fishermen under the government list.

However, insiders estimate that two-thirds of the total number of fishermen in the areas still do not have ID cards, according to district level fisheries officers and fishermen associations.  No total number could be specified.

“They will not be eligible to receive the incentive,” said the director general.

The government, for the first time, has imposed a 65-day ban on fishing in the sea from May 20 to July 23, to ensure smooth breeding of the sea fishes.

The sanction was imposed in accordance with the Marine Fisheries Ordinance 1883 (amended in 2015).

The decision has left thousands of fishermen in a fix as they will become unemployed.

Besides, many fishermen took loans at high rates of interest from local ‘Mohajons’ (wealthy persons who usually lend out money) and nongovernment organisations to buy equipment like fishing trawlers and nets.

The fishermen are worried as they will have no income during this period.

“I took a loan of Tk 12 lakh from a local Mohajon and two NGOs. But now I don’t know how I will pay my loan instalments. I may have to sell off all my equipment to repay my loans,” said Akkas Ali, a fisherman of Boga village of Kachua upazila of Bagerhat.

“I will leave this profession. I’d rather work as a rickshaw-van puller in future,” he told The Daily Star.

“Imposing a 65-day ban on fishing means all my family members will remain unemployed for 65 days. We don’t know what else to do during this time to earn a living,” said Parul Begum, a fisherwoman of Togra village under Indurkani upazila of Pirojpur.

“Thousands of fishermen will starve. There will be no Eid celebrations this year for us,” said Abdul Halim, general secretary of the fisherman’s association in Cox’s Bazar.

“At a time when I cannot buy food for my family, I am not thinking about how to celebrate Eid,” said Nazrul Islam, a fisherman of Borobaishdia village under Rangabali upazila of Patuakhali. 

The government should not have imposed a prolonged ban with such “poor incentives”, said fishermen.

“If a fisherman has a four or five-member family, what he will do with such little incentive. We demand increasing the allocation of rice and providing cash incentives,” said Ansar Uddin Mollah, president of Alipur Motshojibi Somobay Samity under Kolapara upazila of Patuakhali.

“Most fishermen are burdened by loans. What will they eat? How they will pay their loan instalments? We demand that the government reduce the time frame for the ban,” said Abul Hossain, president of National Fisheries Association’s Sharankhola unit of Bagerhat.

[Our Bagerhat, Cox’s Bazar, Barisal, Patuakhali and Pirojpur correspondents contributed to the report]

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