On 24th August it was a typical late monsoon morning with some rain in Cox’s Bazaar Fish Landing Center. Mechanized fishing boats were arriving in the docks with vast amounts of fish, workers hustling to get the fishes into the boxes ready for the early auctions, icing up, nailing boxes and loading trucks. Amid all these fishy business a corner was relatively empty and unnoticed, with dozens and dozens of juvenile sharks and rays lying on the floor.
As baby sharks are not ‘export-quality’ they will end up in low value local markets in hilly region for fresh meat consumption or drying by indigenous people. Then why fisher-folks go for juveniles? I asked a guy who had lots of baby sharks for sale. ‘If they get stuck in the net we have nothing else to do other than throwing into the sea or bringing them up’, he replied. Fishers have no intention to catch juveniles sharks, the guy added.
The fishing dock is one of the countries state-run five Fish Landing Centers used by estuarine and marine fishers. In the eastern coast it is the most important one after Chittagong’s Monohorkhali center. The fishing communities in the area are mainly composed of small-scale fishing groups and households whose activities are limited within an area of about 15 miles from the shore.
From Cox’s Bazaar to Teknaf there are at least five more informal landing areas and the scenario of by-catch is similar. We were on a field trip and the by-catch ‘crisis’ stuck us so deeply that throughout our trip on ‘integrated coastal zone management’ it was one of the most discussed topic. The list of by-catch is topped by Shark, Ray and Blue Swimming Crab.
How come large amount of by-catches going on without too much concern? Well, in estuarine and near-shore areas Bangladesh have both targeted and non-targeted multi-species fisheries. In both cases fishing process and gear used by the fishers increase the risk of by-catch. In non-targeted multi-species fishing use of Set Bag Net (SBN), Estuarine Set Bag Net (ESBN), Purse Seine and Gill net are dominant and tiny mesh size (locally called as ‘current’ net) of them results in higher proportion of small sized by-catch. On the other hand, in targeted fisheries like Hilsha Driftnet and Long line for Rays are also responsible for a large amount of by-catch due to absence of research and zoning about breeding ground of shark and rays.
Next comes the extraction of shrimp fries and larvae. Usually shrimp collectors use midsize Fixed Bag Nets, Drag Nets and small Scoop Nets with very tiny mesh size (1 Millimeter). After a day of intense labor day they extract around 3000 to 10000 larvae. There are around 9 to 13 by-catch against 1 shrimp larvae.
According to Mr. Jalal, a fry-collector near Inani village, there are around seven by-catch against one shrimp larvae. While talking with us Mr. Jalal said that he is aware about by-catches and the consequence. He said, ‘I know my next generation may not find any kind of fishes if it continues, but I have to continue anyway because this is the best source of income for me available here.’
The two noticeable aspects of by-catch in the eastern coast are firstly, collection of threatened species of sharks and rays are rampant in non-targeted fishing. Secondly, in case of commercially important species; all of those fish are juveniles, next year's potential catch. Species diversity, ecosystem health and fishing stock; all are in stake.
The writer is a student of the dept of Environmental Science and Management under North South University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org