The Department of Fisheries (DoF) says, the deep sea trawling ban season is intended to keep the ‘bulldozers of the sea’ off the water during main breeding season of fin-fishes, crustaceans, sharks and rays. DoF, for the first time in history, banned trawling in the Bay of Bengal EEZ of Bangladesh for 65 days last year. This year, the timing of ban will remain same, from 20 May to 23 July.
What interesting is, the captains and the crews of the trawlers are supporting the ban. Since the announcement in last year, I’ve talked to dozens of them till date. They even think that the ban should start when the monsoon really starts- and if the ban really wants to protect breeding mothers and juvenile fishes- it should cover the whole period of heavy freshwater inflow.
We don’t know if the ban-season is based on credible research, but as mentioned by the state agency on several occasions, they ‘know’ it’s the right time. But what if the monsoon is early or late? How come, breeding season of marine fishes occur exactly according to calendar months, rather than dynamic weather, hydro-logical and ecological cycles?
These are the questions; the captains and the crews of the trawlers were putting forward to me throughout the last year. About two months after the ban ended, I visited them in Chittagong Fish Harbor. They were just returning from the first or second fishing trip of the open season, and the captains were saying that ‘still there are lots of juvenile fishes, shrimp fries, caught and discarded’. Last year, Monsoon was late.
Rainy monsoon season in Bangladesh lasts from June through October, it was the typical experience, but in recent year’s it’s being late in the bay and on the delta.
From monsoon experience of recent years, the fishing community is of the opinion that, ban period should be extended to the end of July, at least. Yunus Ahmed, Third Master of bottom trawling vessel F.B. Zilani says, ‘In the bay, heavy freshwater flow from the big rivers continues throughout the August’. This flow with highest turbidity generates highest amount of nutrients, hence helping the larvae for highest breeding rate, he added.
I met Mohammad Saiful, captain of Mid-water trawler F.V. Usha last month aboard his ship in Chittagong Harbor. He also agrees with Yunus Ahmed. He showed me some smart-phones video taken by one of his crew after the ban. ‘Even after a month of the ban season if you find that about 80% catch from a trawl haul is in fact juvenile, then something is not right about the timing of the ban!’, he is almost convinced.
I spent the whole day talking with almost every crew of their 6 strong trawler fleet. The crew was passing another day in ‘maintenance mood’, sitting idle for almost a month then. It’s because the owner of the fleet was not considering fishing trips commercially viable anymore for rest of the open season. Mr. Saiful was showing me photos from his smart-phone, to ‘prove’ is observation that ‘the catch size of fin-fishes is decreasing every passing year’.
Undoubtedly, they are no ‘expert’ listed on the Google scholar. But in absence of any credible research, there is no harm to hear them about the firsthand experience they’ve about the scenario in the sea, about the ‘data’ they’ve got.
And, Of-course we don’t see a future in nearby times, where our fisheries research vessels are plying the water year-round collecting data, and adjusting the ban-season every year with varying weather, hydro-logical and ecological condition. So, we need to work with the ‘less’.
Our research-industry and natural resource management regime both lack the capacity and infrastructure to conserve, manage and sustain marine fisheries, and financial safety of the human resources. We need to do more with the less. We can engage the trawling crews in methodological data recording for a data-driven sustainable fisheries management including ban seasons.
Besides, this ban is applicable on trawlers only, they fish in areas from 40 meter depth range to far deep sea. Statistics from DoF show that these 246 trawlers last year contributed 14.4% of total marine catch, 84846 metric tons.
But the mega-fleet of boats which operates in the near-shore water, and makes most of the marine harvest, is outside of the ban. Major share of the marine catch comes from mechanized and non-mechanized small-scale boats, which last year accounted for 515000 metric tons, 85.86% of total marine catch. These small-scale, mostly artisanal fishing boats are not subject to this ban. Estimate by DoF limits the number of artisanal boats within 68,000.
According to this news report, ‘Fisheries Minister Muhammed Sayedul Hoque wanted to impose restriction both mechanised and non-mechanised vessels this year but the plan could not be put through’.
Well, at least we now have this ban season for trawlers for consecutive second year. Not that bad as a start. Besides arranging alternative livelihoods support for fishers of these 68K boats is not that easy. But, of course possible. It’s now time to explore the ways for extended and more effective ban season in the sea.
Mohammad Arju is a Director of Organization for Social Orientation and the Founder of Save Our Sea initiative. He can be reached at [email protected]