Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Traders defy hilsa ban

Traders driven by greed have been forcing poor fishermen to catch hilsa during its breeding zone in the Bay of Bengal even as the authorities struggle to enforce an 11-day ban.
The Oct. 6-16 ban is aimed at protecting the egg-carrying hilsa during the peak spawning season.
Defying the ban, traders, most of whom are owners of trawlers, are sending the rather reluctant fishermen to Kutubdia, Mayani, Sangu and other coastal areas to invade the breeding zone of the fish, now considered an expensive delicacy for Bengalis.
Government raids to enforce the ban have resulted in the seizure of illegally caught hilsa and fishing trawlers. Interestingly, the fish is being sold at low prices to the same traders who are defying the ban, as fishing sources report.
At Fishery Ghat in Firingi Bazar, close to the River Karnaphuli, traders were seen preserving the mother hilsa in their cold storages even after the ban came into effect on Oct. 6.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a trader told The Daily Star he had bought the fish at the rather low price of one kg of hilsa for somewhere between Tk 30 and 40.
Fisheries Department sources say that most fishermen at Mirsarai, Mayani, Sitakunda, Kutubdia and Sangu coastal areas have pledged not to fish in the bay during the peak spawning season. They have kept their boats and fishing trawlers anchored along the coast.
“But greedy traders are forcing the poor fishermen to the bay in defiance of the ban,” said the sources, asking not to be named.
Nasiruddin Md Humayun, Director, Marine Fisheries Office of FD, told The Daily Star that a joint team comprising Navy, coast guard members, police and marine fisheries department were keeping a vigil to enforce the ban.
“As egg carrying mother hilsa are big and during this period stay close to the coast for breeding, some greedy fish traders catch them for more profit”, Nasiruddin said.
According to the Marine Fisheries Office, a total of 7,000 square km of the coastal region are spawning grounds for hilsa. The Fisheries Department considers four points as the most important breeding grounds. Mayani, from the Feni river’s estuary to Kumira, and North Kutubdia from Matamuhuri estuary to Kutubdia coastal areas, are in greater Chittagong. The other two points are Tasabuddin Awliya point in Bhola and Latachapali point in Patuakhali.
Fisheries Department sources observe that the drives beginning on October 6 have resulted in the seizure of around 23 boats laden with nearly eight tonnes of hilsa. The fish were later sold at open auction.
Most of the trawlers, eleven of which were seized on the first day of the ban, were confined all night.
When asked if traders were buying the fish cheap, Nasiruddin replied, “We are being forced to sell the fish as we have no ice and storage facilities.”
He said the Fish Preservation Act 1950 provides for jail terms ranging from one month to a maximum of six months or a fine of Tk one to two thousand for fishing, transporting, selling or preserving the fish during the ban. The penalties, he said, are not enough to protect hilsa resources from unscrupulous people.
He claimed, however, that the tendency to defy the ban had decreased this year.
The Coast Guard Staff Officer, Operations, Lieutenant Commander Jasimuzzaman told The Daily Star that a 24-hour marine fisheries surveillance check post had been set up at Ghat no-11 on the Karnaphuli to prevent fishing boats from going out to the bay.
Eight patrol teams were conducting drives in the coastal areas against hilsa fishing, he added.
Marine Fisheries Office sources said a total of 12 cases had been filed in this connection.
Besides, 24,960 kgs of hilsa, seized on Saturday night, were subsequently sold at open auction for Tk 58 lakh on Sunday.
Meanwhile, our Barisal correspondent writes that the local administration and law enforcing agencies were continuing to enforce the ban on hilsa during the 11-day ban.
Bankim Chandra Mandal, deputy director, Fishing Directorate Barisal office, noted that in the first three days of the ban, a total of 108 drives yielded 9.37 metric tons of hilsa and 3.65 lakh meters of fishing nets. The authorities realized over Tk 90,000 as fines, and sentenced 111 fishermen to imprisonment from one to four months.
A mobile court on Sunday sentenced seven fishermen to jail terms for violating the fishing ban.

-With The Daily Star input

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