For the second year in a row, the 65-day ban on fishing in the Bay of Bengal imposed by the government has lifted to usher in a boom for commercial fishing, besides making it more sustainable in the long term.
Over the past one week, trawlers loaded with huge catches of fish, particularly the revered hilsa, have been crowding Fishery Ghat, the main fish landing center in the district, to the delight of everyone involved in the fish business.
The local markets are buzzing. Despite plentiful supply though, the price of the mouthwatering hilsa -known as the King of Fish (maacher raja) in this part of the world- is proving sticky upwards, and still beyond the reach of many consumers.
Fishery Ghat is now abuzz with the fishermen, businessmen and wholesale traders due to the availability of hilsa fish. Everyone is passing a busy time here to handle such a huge quantity of fish.
During a recent visit to the Kotwali Fishery ghat, Kattoli and Anandabazar areas in the city, this correspondent saw that hilsa was being purchased from fishermen at Tk 20,000 per maund (1 maund = 37.5 kg approx., so around Tk 540 per kg)) while the wholesale traders have bought per kg of hilsa at Tk 600-625 which is being sold at Tk 1100-1200 per kg.
Talking to the fishermen, it was learned that they resumed fishing in the Bay after the 65-day ban, imposed from May 20-July 23 for the second consecutive year, was lifted. Commercial fishing returned to the Karnaphuli Sea beach on July 27.
Huge amount of hilsa fish is being netted during this period, members of the fishing community said. The size of hilsa is also big and they are expecting to make a good amount of money.
Although there have been short-term bans on commercial fishing in the past, last year was the first time that all fishing boats, including local fishermen, were banned from venturing out to the bay for such a lengthy period at one stretch.
The government says that fishing will now be banned between 20 May and 23 July every year to coincide with the breeding season, as part of its incentive-based PES (Payment for Ecosystem Services) scheme to conserve and sustainably manage hilsa populations. Previously as part of the same scheme, the bans would come in chunks.
Hilsa comprises the largest single-species fishery of the country, providing 11 percent of Bangladesh's total fish catch. Under the PES scheme the fishers are given direct incentives during the fishing ban period: they receive food as well as some support for alternative income generation, according to a paper in the journal Marine Policy.
Mohammad Ridwan, owner of a fishing trawler called FB Jannat,, said he along with 24 fishermen had gone to Kutubdia point of the Bay of Bengal after the ban was lifted a week ago. "We managed to catch 3 maunds of big size hilsa and 12 maunds of small size hilsa."
They sold the kitty for a cool Tk 1.5 lakh, although Ridwan reckons it was worth Tk 50,000 more.
Mohammad Ali, president of Sonali Jantrik Matsya Shilpo Somobai Samity, said Fishery Ghat, the main wholesale market in the city is now busy handling trawler-loads of hilsa.
But the prices of some size hilsa have gone double in the local market as one kg hilsa is being sold Tk 1100-1200, he added.
Mohammad Manik, manager of Babul Sarkar wholesale market at Chattogram Fishery Ghat, said the fish arriving at the wholesale market is being sold through a bidding war.
At first, the trader fixes a base price below which they won't sell, but as soon as that is met the buyers increase the stakes according to their means, he said, till one of them outbids the rest.
According to World Fish, an international non-profit organization that aims "to harness the potential of fisheries and aquaculture," the scheme that the bans are part of has not only led to greater awareness of and compliance with the ban, but also "stock recovery and higher yields".
Data collected by WorldFish from three hilsa sanctuaries over two harvest seasons (July 2015–June 2016 and July 2016–June 2017) shows that the total hilsa catch increased by 28 percent, almost touching 500,000 MT. By 2018, it had gone up further to over 518,000 MT.
Although there were concerns voiced over the impact marginal fishers, a paper presented by members of the Dhaka office of World Fish at an international conference, "increased hilsa production and average size (from 510 g to 915 g) resulted in increased household income of fishers by 52%."
This is one ban that is set to stay.