Like most other sectors, aquaculture and fisheries sector of Bangladesh has also been impacted significantly by the novel coronavirus pandemic and needs urgent recovery plans.
A recent research led by the writer reveals that freshwater pond aquaculture and crab culture are amongst the most affected sub-sectors. The overall impact on the sector includes disrupted transportation systems and increased transportation costs, more aquaculture input and maintenance costs, and less demand for and price of fish. There are also shortages of manpower and less patrolling to implement the fishery regulations. Cancellation of orders by foreign buyers have seriously affected the shrimp and crab sub-sectors, which have started to recover to some extent now.
Some positive impacts on aquatic ecosystem and fish stock are reported by the fisheries stakeholders. However, these are not able to bring societal benefits, while all the fisheries sub-sectors are affected differently by the pandemic.
Overall, the impacts of Covid-19 on the aquaculture and fisheries sector are mostly negative. These impacts have ultimately affected the stakeholders related to fisheries i.e. investors, fish auctioneers (locally known as Aratdar who are also often investors), fish traders, fish farmers and fishers.
According to the research mentioned earlier, these impacts are negative for 85% of fish auctioneers, 84% of fish traders, 86% of fish farmers and 85% of fishers. Surprisingly, about 74% of the research participants mentioned that the impacts of this pandemic is negative on fish consumers, despite the reduction of fish price. This may be because of the decrease in the purchasing capacity of the consumers due to the pandemic.
Given the increased level of significant negative impacts of this pandemic with time, we cannot afford to wait till the pandemic is over. Rather, we need to try to recover as soon as possible.
The government has started to take some recovery measures. A set of plans are needed at different time-scales. The short-term recovery plan needs to focus, for instance, on reducing the input cost of aquaculture and fisheries and facilitating the poor fishers and fish farmers in selling their products at a reasonable price.
Support from the government to the vulnerable community is necessary to sustain the economic consequences of the ongoing pandemic. The government of Bangladesh has already announced financial assistance stimulus package at 4% interest rate. Here the beneficiary selection process and the entire loan providing process needs to be fair and transparent. The affected fisheries-dependent people are not sure about the selection process, loan amount, time and other terms and conditions.
In the long-term, the sector needs to be made more resilient to not only coronavirus pandemic but also other disasters through more financial investment and developing human capital, markets and technology. These include increasing budget for the fisheries sector, establishing fishery banks to provide loan only to fishery stakeholders, bringing the stakeholders, industries and resources under insurance, amongst others.
International donors and friends of Bangladesh need to contribute here as the government has limited capacity. However, any such intervention needs to consider not only the economy and overall livelihoods development but also equity, inclusiveness, gender, fairness and environmental sustainability.
It seems that it may take longer to fully eradicate Covid-19 even if we do have the vaccine. In that case, the whole aquaculture and fisheries system needs to adapt to the 'new normal' situation.
The sooner we learn to live with the coronavirus the better. So we need to make quick plans using a scenario planning approach, i.e. plans for a scenario when coronavirus is still infecting like now, plans for a scenario when the virus is not infecting people that much but still there are some restrictions, and plans for a scenario when there will be no infection or risk of infection from this virus.
Dr Md Monirul Islam, professor of the Dept. of Fisheries, University of Dhaka. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org