Scarcity of fish forces Gaibandha fishermen to change their profession

Published : 02 Oct 2023 09:54 PM

Over the years, fishermen have adopted various lifestyles, and it appears that adversity has become their closest companion. They engage in fishing from dawn until midnight, with their daily income and expenses depending on their daily catch. 

However, in recent times, the fishermen in Gaibandha have been forced to change their professions due to a series of crises. Primarily, this shift is a result of their inability to catch a sufficient amount of fish in the rivers. The Department of Fisheries reports a scarcity of fish in the rivers and canals, largely attributed to the use of various foreign nets for catching Jatka.

According to the district's Fisheries Directorate, there are over 30,000 fishermen in the district, including those in Balashi Ghat of Phulchari Upazila. Among them, 18,000 families are engaged in fishing as their primary livelihood. The region boasts more than 500 ponds and over 20 small and large canals.

These fishermen often find themselves in a cycle of taking loans from various NGOs to cover their family expenses and provide education for their children, hoping for better catches during the rainy season and floods. However, they frequently fall short of their catch targets within the stipulated time. Consequently, many fishermen are compelled to sell their homes, cattle, and goats to repay their loans, as there is no certainty regarding when they will have a bountiful catch. Fishermen recall that even just a decade ago, they could predict when the fish would be abundant, but now, the timing of the catch remains unpredictable. Consequently, many are reluctantly leaving their original profession to pursue alternative livelihoods.

Fishermen in the Tista and Brahmaputra char islands area are facing the greatest struggles. They have limited options for changing their profession because the nets required for fishing in the deep waters of the Brahmaputra River are prohibitively expensive. Consequently, they accrue significant amounts of debt to purchase and maintain these expensive nets. Despite these investments, they continue to struggle to capture an adequate quantity of fish. Additionally, they face losses as their illegal nets are often seized during raids conducted by the authorities.

Akkas Miah, a 54-year-old fisherman from Balashi Ghat in Phulchari Upazila, shares his plight, saying, "I spend my days worrying about my family because the river no longer yields fish. My elder son, Abdullah, has left fishing and now works in a garment factory in Gazipur. I am facing immense hardships while providing for my younger son and my daughter, who is of marriageable age."

A former fisherman from the Kamarjani area along the Brahmaputra River side explains, "We must obtain permission from local influential figures and share a portion of our earnings with them to fish in the river. Even after paying these fees, it's challenging to catch at least five kilograms of fish. The money we earn is insufficient to support our families, which is why I have turned to driving an auto-rickshaw, leaving behind my fishing profession.

Sayeed Mia, a member of the Balashi Ghat Fishermen's Association, said, "Hundreds of fishermen families depend on fishing in the Brahmaputra River. We can only operate for five or six months during the rainy season. The income from this period must sustain us for the remainder of the year. Many of us resort to taking loans from NGOs, and some struggle to make ends meet with interest-based money."

In response, Gaibandha District Fisheries Officer Faisal Azam said, "Currently, there are 18,599 registered fishermen in Gaibandha district, which is surrounded by rivers. These fishermen previously had no formal recognition, but now they are being provided with smart cards.” 

“Besides, reduced water levels in the Tista and Brahmaputra rivers and canals have severely affected fishing activities. The lack of alternative employment options has led to increasing unemployment among the fishermen. If alternative employment opportunities can be created during the dry season, it would alleviate their livelihood challenges," he further added.

He also mentions that a formal report regarding the matter will be submitted to higher authorities soon.