Gone are those days when imagining any social or religious festival without satiating your taste buds with sumptuous curries prepared of freshwater fishes such as pangas, katla, sheatfish, rohu, mrigel, chital, baghair fish was almost impossible.
Even at the end of the last century, there was no shortage of river fish. At that time, catching a large fish was no surprise. At present, these large fishes are mostly cultivated in the ponds.
But this year a new ray of hope is gleaming about the availability of large-size fresh water Pangas. According to news reports, large pangas have been caught in the river in different parts of the country for the last few days, especially in the Padma river near Rajbari, Rajshahi and Shariatpur. The average weight of the caught pangas is 5 to 15 kg. Many fishermen have been able to catch about 50-60 pangas a day.
Recently, these writers talked to Hanif, a 30-year-old fisherman from the Haloishar village of Naria upazila of Shariatpur district. He said 86 pangas were caught in his net on one night on November 8. He sold all those fishes in the local fish market for Tk 4.25 lakh. Hanif went on to say that he had been fishing since he was a child, but he had never seen such abundance of pangas.
Dadan Sardar, another fisherman from that village, said that if we put emphasis on conservation of pangas, its production will increase in the future.
What caused the decrease in the stock of Pangas?
According to the Fisheries Act, catching pangas below 12 inches (30 cm) is prohibited. Padma-Meghna confluence is one of the roaming areas of freshwater juvenile pangas. The fish stock declined mainly due to indiscriminate catching of pangas fry through bamboo-made trap - locally called Chai. Excessive use of pesticides and fertilisers, dumping of industrial waste in rivers, and plastic pollution were also among the factors responsible for the decrease.
Why is Pangas reappearing?
Hilsa yield has increased over the last few years. It has got an opportunity to grow as a result of various programmes taken by the government, including conservation of juvenile and brood Hilsa. The Department of Fisheries has partnered with various government and non-government research and development organisations, including USAID-funded Worldfish's Ecofish II project.
As a result of the Hilsa conservation programme, other fish stocks have also increased in the river. The project has also been carrying out various awareness programmes for conservation of pangas fish for several years now.
The illegal fishing trap named 'Chai,' set up at various breeding grounds of pangas such as Chandpur and Shariatpur, has been eradicated through various joint efforts of the Department of Fisheries & ECOFISH II.
For the first time in Bangladesh, ECOFISH II has launched a co-management programme for fishermen to spread the message among fishermen that "if we take care of the river, the river will reward us".
Since 2014, attempts to protect the breeding grounds of big fishes including Hilsa have been made in Bhola, Patuakhali, Barisal, Chandpur, Shariatpur, Laxmipur, Jhalokati, Pirojpur, Barguna and other parts of the country, and the project has tried to make the fishermen aware about the evils of killing fry.
Pangas have unique nutritional value
In terms of nutrition, pangas is ahead of other fish. Nutrition researchers at Dhaka University have found that pangas fish contains much more essential amino acid than other fishes. Moreover, this fish is very popular among people of all ages as it is tasty and does not have much bones.
How can we conserve pangas?
The importance of pangas and other native fishes for the source of nutrition and livelihood of the rural population is immense. Steps that need to be taken on an urgent basis to protect pangas include:
- Moderate use of pesticides should be ensured in agriculture, and use of organic pesticides should be encouraged.
- Open water bodies such as beels, haors, rivers, and canals which are government properties should be leased to real fishermen only.
- Before construction of any infrastructure on rivers, canals or reservoirs, proper study should be done whether it can adversely affect the environment or the water body.
- Extermination of fish fry and fishing with eggs should be banned. If exemplary punishment is given to the perpetrators, no one else will dare to extract fish fry or hunt brood fish.
- Re-excavation of filled rivers, ditches, reservoirs and declaration of more fish sanctuaries should be done based on scientific research.
- Illegal and highly detrimental chai or such fishing traps should be destroyed.
- Fishers may be brought under livelihood support programmes during the banned juvenile pangas harvesting season.-T
- The government has to take various steps to improve fishers' living standards, by the means of increasing incentives during the fishing ban, and making alternative employment arrangements.
- Suitable laws should be formulated and strictly implemented to protect the native fish.
- More research initiatives should be taken for the development and conservation of native fish.
After all, it is more important to motivate the fishermen than to control them with punishment to protect the pangas. The country is expected to move ahead in fish production if it can follow the way the ECOFISH II project has worked closely with fishermen to find out their true condition and integrate closely with their way of life.
Mohammad Shohorab Hossain is Production coordinator, Communications and Marketing, WorldFish Bangladesh. Email: [email protected]
Asaduzzaman Rassel is Communications Specialist, WorldFish Bangladesh, Bangladesh & South Asia Office. Email: [email protected]
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.