Sitting beside the Ikardia launch terminal road in Kishoreganj, forty-year-old Hori Mohon Das was waiting for selling his fish to local customers. In two hours in the afternoon, he cast his net four times in the Meghna river and caught nearly two kilograms of fish. The tiny and big fishes were still jumping in a small basket.
"This is the first day I cast my net in the river this season. The amount of fish is not bad, my gut feeling is that we will get a good amount this year too," said a smiling Mohon on October 21 this year.
When Hori Mohon Das's fish was on sale, many other fishermen were busy casting and trawling their nets in the Meghna River in search of fish. No one was seen coming back empty-handed.
Kishoreganj has the second-highest number of haors in the country, the 97 haors of this district abound with fishes in monsoon seasons.
The seven north-western districts of the country – Sunamganj, Sylhet, Habiganj, Maulvibazar, Netrakona, Kishoreganj and Brahmanbaria have 373 haors in total. 42 per cent of the total area is wetlands in these seven districts which makes them an ideal area for fish production.
Alongside the commercial fish farming, the amount of fish captured in inland open water including rivers and haors is increasing in the country.
In the 2013-14 fiscal year, the total fish production was 35.48 lakh tonnes. In 2017-18 fiscal year, the total fish production went up by a significant number which was 42.77 lakh tonnes.
According to the FAO report, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018, Bangladesh ranked third in inland open water capture and fifth in world aquaculture production.
Umme Kulsum Ferdousi, district fisheries officer of the Department of Fisheries told The Business Standard that there are three main reasons behind the increase of fishes in the inland open waters. These are fish fry release program, beel nurseries and sanctuaries.
The government has taken initiatives to release fish fry to increase fish production in the open water bodies. "In the last five years, 3,560 tonnes of fish fry were released in the open water bodies across the country. As a part of the programme, in the last fiscal year, 266 tonnes of fish fry were released in the water bodies," said Ferdousi.
The government has also taken another program called Beel Nursery Program. Under this programme, the agency set up 3,967 beel nurseries across the country. In the dry season, fish fries were kept in craters dug inside a beel and nurtured. As monsoon comes and the water bodies are full, the nurseries are opened to spread the fishes across the entire water body.
"These initiatives are helping to produce an additional 2,050 tonnes of fish in inland open water bodies across the country," said Ferdousi.
The government has made 432 inland open water sanctuaries for fish production across the country. Of them, six are time-bound sanctuaries for the Hilsha fish. There is a ban on fishing in the other 426 sanctuaries year-round.
"Not only that these sanctuaries are producing more and more fish. They also help to breed indigenous fish in the country," said Umme Kulsum Ferdousi.
Fish increasing in the haors
The government statistics say that in 2013-14 fiscal year, the amount of fish capture was 73,448 tonnes, and in the 2017-18 fiscal year, the amount stood at 97,119 tonnes. The statistics show a gradual growth in fish production in open water bodies through the years.
Bijoya Paul, assistant professor of University of Dhaka, told The Business Standard that the government initiatives including building sanctuaries, beel nurseries, and fry fish releasing are ultimately increasing the fishes in the haors and rivers.
She also said that recently the government has become stricter in protecting fishes across the country, which also has a contribution in fish production.
"Open water fishes are better than the cultured ones. As the tradition goes for fish loving Bengalis, they prefer buying fishes caught in the haors for their taste" said Bijoya Paul.
More fishes in the rivers
The fish production in the rivers stood at 3,20,598 tonnes in the 2017-2018 fiscal year. In the last five fiscal years, the production went up by 1,53,225 tonnes which is more than double compared to 2013-2014 fiscal year.
Kaniz Fatema, professor at the department of fisheries of the University of Dhaka, said that the production of fish will increase more if the government take projects which boost fish production in the haor areas. "If the government takes initiatives to increase fish in haors, ultimately our indigenous fishes facing extinction will also increase," said Professor Kaniz Fatema.