Fisher Tokasser Mia cannot feed his six-member family three times a day amid serious financial difficulties, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and a 65-day ban on fishing.
"I have four children; all are school-going. I cannot feed them well. They love to eat fish, but I have not been able to put fish on their plates for about five months till August," said Tokasser, hailing from Bhola's Char Fasson.
"Even, I had to sell out some poultry, reared by my wife, to meet our daily needs during that time," he added.
The 66-day general holidays announced by the government from March 26 amid the coronavirus pandemic had affected the country's informal sectors, especially the fishermen, the worst. Meanwhile, the government ban on fishing from May 20 to July 23 multiplied the sufferings of the fishermen community.
To assess the effects of the general holidays and fishing ban on fishermen, Manusher Jonno Foundation – a local non-government organisation working to improve lives of poor and marginalised communities – has conducted a survey.
Tokasser Mia has been a representative of the collective life of the country's marginalised community as depicted in the telephone survey. The survey on 1,061 respondents was conducted under the Sustainable Ocean project supported by the Dennis Institute for Human Rights.
During these challenging times, income declined for over 84 percent of the fishers who responded to the survey. Their average monthly income fell to Tk5,138 from Tk11,125.
Slightly over 15 percent reported they did not experience an income decrease in those days.
Further, income for 17 percent respondents dropped by 81-100 percent while it was 61-60 percent for 24 percent.
During the general holidays, around three-fourth of them did not receive any government aid while most of them (83.2 percent) had to borrow money to mitigate their income deficit.
Shaheen Anam, executive director of the surveying organisation, said fishermen had to switch their profession to find some economic solvency during the pandemic, but they could not keep pace due to lack of skills.
During the fishing ban period, around one-third of the fishermen had no means of livelihood while another about one-third had to work as day labourers. Roughly 17 percent switched to boat-building and net-knitting. And the rest had gone fully jobless.
The country has around 16.20 lakh registered fishermen, 14 lakh of whom hold government-granted fisherman cards, according to Md Serajur Rahman, deputy director of Department of Fisheries.
The survey found that 86 percent of the respondents, who had a fisherman card, received food and cash support from the government. But over two-thirds among those having no such cards reported they knew nothing about government relief.
"Cardholders got all kinds of government assistance. The registration is going for others who are yet to be listed," said Serajur.
Domestic violence rampant
The survey also found that domestic violence was also rampant in fishers' families during these hard times.
Manusher Jonno Foundation believes the persistent economic crisis was the main reason behind increased domestic violence during the shutdown and fishing ban periods.
More than 49 percent of 306 female respondents reported they had been victim to physical abuse.
The organisation recommended arranging diversified employment opportunities and proper support for the fishermen to help them survive.
When contacted, Fisheries and livestock Minister SM Rezaul Karim said the cardholder fishermen were given sufficient food support by the government during the 65-day fishing ban.
About the surveying organisation's recommendation, the minister said, "My ministry has no capacity to provide them [fishermen] with other job scopes right now, but we will consider it."