Khoka Mia is an 80-year-old farmer at Boilor Mothbari village under Trishal Upazila in Mymensingh. Catching fish has been his passion since childhood. The Business Standard talked to him about his experiences regarding local varieties of fish. He mentioned the names of Meni, Foli, Rani and some other local fish, the taste of which he has not been able to forget.
He said, "This generation does not even know the names of these local fish. But in our time, we walked miles after miles to go to rivers or khals (canals) and beels (lakes) to catch the fish. Still I catch fish with hooks. But these fish are not found in khaals and beels nowadays."
However, the Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute (BFRI) has been successful in producing fry of 23 almost extinct local species of fish. Researchers of the institute have successfully invented a commercial method of cultivating these fish. They are ─ Pabda, Gulsha, Gujiayir, Rajputi, Chital, Meni, Tengra, Foli, Balachata, Shing, Mohashoal, Gutum, Magur, Beral, Kunchia, Bhagna, Khalisha, Kalibaoush, Koi, Bata, Gojar, Swarputi and Ganimachh.
Selina Yesmin, senior scientific officer at the Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute, Mymensingh, said that they have been researching commercial farming of local species, which are on the verge of extinction from rivers and beels. They are preserving these fish and then producing fry from them through artificial breeding. She said research on breeding and cultivating some local fish named Dhela, Shalbain, Kakila and Angus Bhol has also been going on.
Apart from the main centre of the Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute at Mymensingh, the branches of BFRI in Bogura, Santahar, Syedpur in Nilphamari and Jessore are also working on preserving almost extinct local fish species, according to the institute.
Dr Yahya Mahmud, director general of BFRI, said emphasis has been given on research activities to reproduce endangered species of local fish. That is why preservation of genes and invention of breeding techniques and methods of commercial cultivation have been possible, he added.
Dr Yahya further said the fry of the aforementioned fish have been distributed among fish framers in different parts of the country.
"Every year, around 300 crore fry of local species are being supplied to different parts of the country from BFRI and different hatcheries in Mymensingh. The cultivation of the species has been possible due to the invention of commercial farming methods. It is helping in bringing back endangered local species as well as increasing the production of fish, which has benefitted farmers. Investments in the sector have increased and it will rise further in the future," said Dr Yahya.
Abdul Kader, owner of Swarnali Hatchery in Fulbaria Upazila of Mymensingh, said he produced spawn of local fish. Fish farmers from different upazilas of the district take spawn from him. The farmers are interested in cultivating Gulsha, Pabda and Shing, said Kader.
Besides, fish farmers who are cultivating fish following Biofloc technology or the Recirculating Aquaculture System (RAS) method want small local varieties.
Motiur Rahman, a fish farmer of Trishal, said he produced 3.5 lakh fry of Shing from two kilogrammes of spawn in a pond covering an area of 30 decimals. It takes three months to produce the fry, and he sells them to fish farmers. Each time he invests Tk2 lakh and makes a profit of Tk1.5 lakh.
Demand and profits both are good
Apel Mahmud, a farmer of Kakchar village in Trishal, said the demand for local fish was good. Besides, the selling prices are also fair. Apel earns Tk12-Tk15 lakh annually from selling local fish.
Rounak Mahmud, fisheries and livestock secretary, said, "Local species of fish will come back. We are going for artificial breeding of these species, so researchers are working on bringing back the original taste of the fish alongside increasing production. We want to keep the prices of these fish within the reach of common people."
SM Rezaul Karim, fisheries and livestock minister, said a live gene bank of local species of fish has been established at the Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute for the first time in the country. He said, "Out of 260 species of fish, 143 are small local fish. Of the 143 species, 64 are almost extinct. Already breeding and farming method of several such fish varieties have been invented. These technologies are being spread at the field level. That is why the production of these local fish is increasing day by day."
He further said the government has taken up different fisheries-friendly policies to protect local fish species. "The total production of local small fish in ponds was 67,340 tonnes in 2009 whereas in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, it rose up to 2.41 lakh tonnes," he added.
The minister also said, "Many areas of rivers, haors and beels have been reserved to help increase the natural production of local fish, and fry of local species are being released there. The number of varieties of local small fish will increase on the menu of common people very soon, and the prices will be within the reach of consumers."