Cox’s Bazar fishing industry grapples with multiple challenges

Traders say the industry, which has sizeable input from both coastal fisheries and commercial fishponds, is getting “increasingly volatile

The Cox’s Bazar fishing industry is grappling multiple problems including maritime piracy and low catch at the Bay of Bengal, casting a shadow over the industry’s future prospects.
Traders say the industry, which has sizeable input from both coastal fisheries and commercial fishponds, is getting “increasingly volatile.”
Some of the common problems include dwindling fish stock in the sea, piracy, safety hazards, recurrence of natural disasters, and price hikes of essential items, such as fuel (necessary for fishing trawlers) and ice.
In addition, as many as 30,000 fishing families in the district are struggling with storing their fish and seafood.
Sources say the delay in issuing identity cards to these fisherpersons – a key safety requirement – and providing them with other facilities are also working as potential hindrances.
Joynal Abedin, owner of a fishing trawler at Majhir Ghat, said he had spent the last 20 years of his life on the sea but has never been through such an uncertain time.
“In the past, when there were swarms of fish in the Bay, a trawler-trip for 10 days would cost us Tk25,000-30,000 and we would invariably have a bumper catch, with a gross return of Tk150,000-200,000.”
“Now, each trip costs us about Tk100,000, while most of the time trawlers either return almost empty or with fishes barely enough to cover the costs,” he said.
Syed Alam, a fish trader, said fishermen are afraid to sail through the pirate-infested waters.
“They don’t want to go to the sea because of frequent incidents of piracy. To speak frankly, the fishing business has never been as difficult as it is now,” he said.
Hamid Ullah, a fishmonger at the Samiti Para, said, even though he loved to catch fish, he did not want to risk his life by going deep-sea fishing.
“While on the sea, you have to worry every minute about pirates who can appear out of nowhere. You may live one moment and die the next. It’s extremely scary!”
“But part of the reason behind the fishermen’s apathy to go sea-fishing is the increasing number of natural calamities,” he added.
Cox’s Bazar District Fisheries Officer Ferdaus Ahmed, speaking about identity cards for fisherpersons, said they are now tallying up people who would be given ID cards.
“We have already finished enlisting fisherpersons in the Kutubdia and Pekua areas. Once the headcount is done, we will start issuing IDs,” he said.
The fishing industry will “regain its lost momentum” if people start farming fish in a scientific way, he observed.
According to the fisheries department, the number of fish-farmers in the district stands at 34,000, of whom 4,000 are women, while the number of fisherpersons is estimated to be 112,500.
However, an inside source claimed that the figures in the data of the department are “outdated.”
Another source, at the Cox’s Bazar Fish Research Institute, on condition of anonymity, said officials responsible for overseeing the fishing industry “have little interest” in its development or the people involved.
“They sit idly by, doing nothing, and draw their salaries at the end of every month. However, that is all. They have no other work.”
Osman Sarwar, a monosex tilapia hatchery owner who has been in the business for 12 years, supported this statement by saying that no one from the fisheries department had ever come to his assistance in all these years.
Abu Ahmed, another hatchery owner at the Ramu area, said more fish could be produced if the fisheries department took necessary measures to encourage and assist fish farmers.
“This sort of support is essential and can help reenergise the struggling industry,” he added.