Fish is a very common food in Bangladesh. The country is blessed with both inland and marine fishery sources.
Our fisheries sector reportedly makes up 3.69 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country. More than 11 percent of our total population are engaged in fishing.
Over the last three decades, our inland aquaculture has improved significantly due to dissemination of better technology packages and supportive/need-based extension services at the farmer's level.
However, the potential of the coastal fisheries sector has not been rationally harvested. Marine fisheries production is only 16.28 percent of the national fish production. Our coastal or marine fisheries mainly include Industrial (Trawl) and Artisanal fisheries.
Compared to other fisheries, the artisanal fishing sector has not changed much. Their methods of fishing are traditional - the fishermen use locally made gears and motorised or non-motorised country boats.
The artisanal fishing community in Bangladesh do not use any technology.
Even during their voyage to the sea, they use no technology for navigation, locating fishing spots, predicting weather as well as for handling and processing of fish. These artisanal fishing communities are also vulnerable to climate change.
In addition to secondary literature, this information also came to light from a series of workshops organised by ULAB in partnership with Keele University, UK, as well as two field visits jointly conducted by a team of ULAB and Keele people to these remote vulnerable communities in Chattogram and Khulna.
The team identified that vulnerability due to adverse climatic conditions and post-harvest losses can be reduced with the help of technologies and improved tools.
Although there have been many technological developments globally, including widespread use of synthetic fibers, hydraulic equipment for gear and fish handling, electronics for fish finding, satellite-based technology for navigation and communications, onboard conservation, the artisanal fishing communities in Bangladesh are not using any of them. They risk their life while at sea. They do not have the opportunity to communicate with anyone while at sea.
Ifthis remote community are provided with affordable and sustainable technology it would be very helpful.
Also, post-harvest losses take place during various stages of handling, transportation and preservation of fish. This preservation process is not properly equipped with adequate facilities. After catching the fish, they keep it on board using tradition technique of icing. This sort of icing in artisanal fishing is generally done in two more stages - one after unloading fish before transportation; and during sale of wet fish.
The introduction of cold storage to the value chain will increase the post-catch shelf life, reducing rotting and increasing access to markets with a corresponding increase in price.
Question however remains about the prospects and challenges of clean technology solutions for artisanal fisheries in Bangladesh.
ULAB and Keele University, UK jointly organised this webinar on July 22, 2020, as a part of their ongoing research project on coastal fishing communities.
Many interesting points were raised during the discussion. For example – if a portable solar cooling system is developed who will get the benefit? Is it even appropriate? Do we need to go high tech, low tech, and does it create more social problems? And are we creating more technical e-waste problems and social problems? And how do we address those circular design issues? Lastly, how to make it commercially viable.
It is important to study social attitudes towards sustainable technologies because, according to a study conducted on fishermen in Bangladesh and India, fishing communities are not ready to take the risks of new technology.
A majority of fishers are very poor and still unorganised. Some fishermen have boats and their gears. Boat owners usually hire crews and engage them for fishing. These communities do face a whole range of different issues; therefore, it is also important to identify the priority challenge to focus on and could technology be applied for those pressing challenges; is cooling off fish a priority challenge for these fisherfolk? Then there is a danger of too high technology, what that might mean in terms of troubleshooting and maintenance.
There is a need for piloting before launching of any new technology. We need to demonstrate technologies to the fishermen. They won't just accept it unless it's proven to have a benefit to them.
Further, it is important to understand the local community context like micro institutional issues, understanding political actors, big fishermen and understanding how they might react to this sort of technology, which is designed for a particular sort of members of the community.
Moreover, we need to consider how the local government can be involved. We have got to be careful that we are not putting other stakeholders out of business and how we impact those people.
The most important thing is that our artisanal fishermen are illiterate.
Will they be technically able to use the technology? Our fishermen sometimes rely on "God's decision" and they think we cannot do anything on our own will. Therefore, if our system is not tech-friendly, we need to fix our system first and then adopt the technology.
Dr Shantanu Kumar Saha is an Assistant Professor-cum-Research Fellow at the Centre for Sustainable Development, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh.