Bangladesh has decided to set up a Hilsa Conservation Trust Fund (HCTF) to protect this fish from over-exploitation due to population growth and effects of climate change.

Under the initiative, the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development, Dhaka-based Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) and Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) have been working with the department of fisheries to reduce threats to hilsa fish and biodiversity in the lower Meghna river.

“We have already submitted a study report to the department of fisheries inserting some recommendations to set up the HCTF and the department will send it to the ministry of fisheries soon,” BCAS senior fellow Liaquat Ali told IPS.

Hilsa is one of the most important single-species fish in the Bay of Bengal. It has traditional importance as every year, people celebrate the Bangla new year with Pathna-Ilish (watered rice with hilsa). More than half a million of coastal fishermen directly depend on it for their livelihood and nearly three million people of Bangladesh are involved in trading, processing, transportation and marketing of hilsa fish.Around 250 million Bengali people depend on it for nutrition.

Hilsa is also one of the country’s main staple foods, which accounts for 11 per cent of the country’s total fish production and one per cent to the gross domestic product.

Once hilsa fish was abundant in the Bay of Bengal and hundreds of rivers in Bangladesh, India and Myanmar, but declined steeply since the 1970s. This decline was due to the impact of climate change — as it affected its breeding ground — and over-exploitation.

The coastal fishermen communities, who highly are dependant on hilsa fishing, are poor. To restrict fishing during the banned period, the government provides compensation to the affected fishermen communities under a social safety net programme.

Around 1.58 lakh metric tonnes of food grains were distributed to more than 2.24 lakh households of fishermen communities under the vulnerable feeding programme in the last six years, said Bangladesh’s fisheries and livestock minister, Muhammed Sayedul Hoque.

About 40 kilogrammes of rice are being distributed to each household during fishing ban period. Equipment worth Tk 10,000 (US $128) has been distributed to more than 30,000 fishermen to promote alternative livelihood options.

Data of the department of fisheries shows that hilsa production was around 2.2 lakh metric tonnes in 2001-02 fiscal and it increased to 3.87 lakh metric tonnes, about a 75 per cent rise from 2001-02.

Hilsa is a sea fish and it comes to rivers of Bangladesh during their breeding period to release eggs. There is no evidence as yet that hilsa can be farmed. The department of fisheries with support from WorldFish took an initiative in 2015 to farm hilsa on pond and caged in open water. Hilsa fry collected from the sea were released in two ponds in Patuakhali, a coastal district of Bangladesh. But this trial was not successful.

(Inter Press Service)