In the first three months during the shrimp fry harvesting season in the Meghna River in Lakshmipur, marine resources and aquatic biodiversity worth around Tk6,000 crore have been damaged.
Shrimp collectors, traders, fisheries officials and scientists have revealed the information.
To control such asituation, the Fisheries Department and the administration continue some occasional drives among the fry traders, said locals.
Dr Md Belal Hossain, associate professor,faculty of Marine Science and Fisheries at Noakhali University of Science and Technology, said that there was no official study over the specific damage to fish and other aquatic resources in the Meghnaduring the collection of shrimp fry.
In his unofficial research, he has found that a fry collector selects the fries at least 10 times per hour.
"If the fry collector damages at least 100 Poafishes every time, he destroys 4,000 Poa fries in four hours of the day. Thus, in one day, Poa fish fry is damaged around over 160 crore in number. And if we consider the price at Tk1, in 70 days, the damage is around Tk6,000 crore."
It's only about the Poa fish, we did not consider the damages of the other fishes, he added.
"The collectors destroyabout 70-80 other species of fish fry and planktons in an attempt to capture a shrimp fry," he said.
While visiting the fry collection spots at Burirghat of Char Ramni Mohan Union in LakshmipurSadar and Kamalnagarupazilas, it was found that some 1,500 to 2,000 fry collectors were engaged in fry collecting in a one kilometer area.
Among them, there were children, teenagers, youth, old women and men of all ages.
Though the fry collectors catch other fish fries, they sell only the shrimp pollen.
Fry hunting takes place in an area covering 45 kilometers beginning fromRaypur to Tangki Bazar of RamgatiUpazialinMeghna. Every year from Boishakh to Ashar (months in Bengali calendar), at least 40,000 locals and fishermen from all over the area collect shrimp fry.
Amjad, a fish fry collector from Char Kalkini on the island of Meghna, hunts fry with a mosquito net. He gets around 21 shrimp pollens in each dropping of the net. And he also gets many more fish fries and even small insects.
After collection of the young shrimp fries, if they dumped the other fries on the river, some aquatic lives could be saved.
When informed about this, Amjad said, "The local fishermen are not aware of this. None told them about this before."
Talking to a few more fry collectors about the matter, they said that if they get training, they will be aware. And they lack knowledge of protecting biodiversity.
The traders believe that shrimp fry worth about a thousand crore will be collected this season.
Numerous unnamed species of fish including Hilsa, Coral, Poa, Cheuya, Laitta, Vhetki, Pangash, crab, among others, are thrown from the net.
The river usually catches a large quantity of fry at low tide in the morning and evening hours.
According to local fishermen, the coastguard chased them out of the river just one day this season.
The district fisheries department is yet to estimate if fish and other aquatic animals are being destroyed during shrimp fry collection.
Fisheries Officer Mohammad Billal Hossain said that the market value of the aquatic animals damaged by the locals while catching the fry has not been determined yet.
However, he said, the value will be huge.
"The locals catch the fries as the traders buy those. And that is why they run the drives primarily against the traders," he said about the drives.
Regular raids were also being carried out against the collectors, he added.
From four upazilas of Lakshmipur – Ramgati, Kamalnagar, Raipur and LakshmipurSadar - about one and a half crore Bagdashrimp fry is extracted every month during the season as the canal connects the MeghnaRiver with Raipur.
About 40,000 locals and fishermen are involved in collecting the fries. About 250 local traders of 4 upazilas run shrimp fry business. Under each of them, about 200 fry collectors collect fry.
The shrimps extracted from the river are transported to different parts of the country including Khulna, Bagerhat, Satkhira, Cox's Bazar, Chattogram by sea and road from 20 small and large river ports of the district.
Fisheries Office sources said, a notification issued by the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock on September 21, 2000 prohibits collection of Bagda shrimp fry from the coastal areas. However, the law does not apply to the collection of fries from the river.
The Department of Fisheries should also have a plan to extract shrimp fries to protect the huge aquatic biodiversity of the river and to prevent economic losses.
The locals also believe that such regular programmes can control the destruction of fishery resources.