Fish has long been a cornerstone of Bengali cuisine and is considered a prominent non-vegetarian source. This dietary tradition has earned Bengalis the nickname “Mache Bhate Bengali”. Given that 60 percent of the total non-vegetarian food requirements of the country are sourced from fish, this saying is an apt reflection of the significant role that fish plays in the local diet.
Moreover, the fisheries sector in Bangladesh is a crucial contributor to the country’s economy, not only meeting a significant proportion of the nation’s non-vegetarian food needs but also generating substantial income. In the fiscal year 2020-21, Bangladesh was ranked third globally in terms of fisheries resources, harvesting around 20 million tons of fish and contributing 3.57 percent to the country’s GDP. Additionally, Bangladesh has been exporting fish and fish-related products to over 50 countries worldwide, earning a total of $533 million in FY 2021-22, which is more than 1 percent of the country’s total export earnings.
Overview of Fisheries Industry In Bangladesh
Bangladesh, being a riverine country, boasts abundant water resources. In addition to numerous rivers, canals, and ponds throughout the country, the Bay of Bengal sits at the southern end. These vast aquatic areas are home to numerous species of fish, which are both delectable and easy to digest, making them a staple food for Bengalis. According to The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization, Bangladesh ranks 3rd globally for fish extraction from open water bodies and 5th in aquaculture production. Moreover, Bangladesh ranks 4th globally and 3rd in Asia for tilapia fish production. However, the country’s most significant achievement in the sector is its position at the top among the 11 countries that produce Hilsa fish, which is the national fish and accounts for more than 12% of the country’s total fish production.
Over the last three decades, Bangladesh’s fish production has increased six-fold. In the fiscal year 1983-84, the country produced only 7.54 lakh metric tons of fish, whereas, in the fiscal year 2020-21, this figure exceeded 46.21 lakh metric tons. In fact, the government of Bangladesh’s Vision-2021 aimed for 45.52 lakh metric tons of fish production in 2020-21, which has already been surpassed. However, more than 57% of this production comes from aquaculture. Bangladesh primarily produces fish from three sources: inland farming, inland open water bodies, and the sea.
Inland fisheries are mainly cultivated in ponds, Haur-Baor, enclosures, seasonally cultivated ponds, pens, and cages, among others. In the financial year 2020-21, over 26.38 lakh metric tons of fish were cultivated in about 8.43 lakh hectares of inland water bodies, accounting for 57% of the country’s total fish production. In the same year, about 19.82 lakh metric tons of fish were produced from inland open water bodies such as rivers and canals, while the sea accounted for the remainder. More than 12% of the country’s population is directly or indirectly involved in the fisheries sector for their livelihood.
Increasing Seafood Consumption
In the past decade, there has been a lot of change in the food consumption habits of the people of Bangladesh, which can also be observed in the case of fish. Along with fish such as Rui, Katla, and Hilsa, there is also an increased tendency among consumers to consume dried or frozen sea fish. Today, people are also consuming marine fish such as Roop Chanda, Loita, Cuttlefish, Laksa, Red snapper, and Tuna.
Especially in the coastal areas of Cox’s Bazar, Chittagong, Saint Martin, Kuakata, the consumption of various types of marine fish including crab, shrimp, lobster, and squid has increased due to the increase in tourism. In addition, due to the development of various seafood restaurants in Dhaka, people’s demand for marine fish consumption is being met. As the overall consumption of sea fish is increasing among the people of the country, the availability of freshwater fish, as well as sea fish, has also increased in the big super shops and fish markets of Dhaka. Which is a positive aspect for the fisheries sector of the country.
Rise Of Aquaponics
Also, currently farmers in the country have started aquaponics farming in addition to enclosure farming in terms of inland fish farming. Aquaponics basically refers to aquaculture, aquaculture, hydroponics, and soil-free farming methods. In this method, plants and fish grow in a symbiotic environment within aquaponics, where the aquatic bodies of the aquatic animals feed the plants and the plants naturally filter the wastewater for the aquatic organisms. As this type of farming is quite easy and accessible, the fish farmers of this country are also farming fish through aquaponics in addition to large farming ponds which is helping to increase the amount of fish production in the country.
Local Species Cultures
At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, native fishes such as Rui, Katla, Boal, Magur, Tilapia, and Koi began to decline from the inland open water bodies of Bangladesh such as Nadi-Nala, Khal-Bil, and Haur-Baor. As a result, the amount of fish harvested from these open water bodies also decreases. In the 60s, where 90 percent of Bengal’s fish was harvested from inland open water bodies, today the amount of fish harvested stands at only 28 percent. In such a situation, different species of local fish are being commercially farmed in Bangladesh for the last few decades to meet the demand of domestic fish. Due to which, the amount of fish farming in Bangladesh has increased in several times. By this, the production of different types of native species of fish is increasing and it is possible to meet the demand.
Reasons Behind Growth
Increasing Inland Culture
Inland fisheries are playing the biggest role in the constant growth of Bangladesh’s fisheries sector. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a little over 4 lakh (4,12,341) hectares of water bodies were used for inland fisheries in Bangladesh in the FY 2001–02. In order to change this situation and further increase the number of inland fisheries in the country, in the next decade, the use of advanced technology managed by the Bangladesh Fisheries Department, the expansion of rice-fish farming in the Dhani reservoir together with development partners and NGOs, and flood control, drainage and irrigation with other inland water bodies of the country ( Various water bodies are developed under the Integrated Fisheries and Livestock Development Scheme (FCDI) in the project area. Consequently, the volume of inland fisheries in Bangladesh began to increase gradually, and in FY 2020-21, about 8.5 lakh (8,43,729) hectares of inland water bodies were fished.
Increasing Hilsa & Shrimp Production
Another reason behind the growth of the fisheries sector in Bangladesh is the constant increase in the production of Hilsa and shrimp in the country. Among all the species of fish available in Bangladesh, the national fish Hilsa is the only species that contributes more than 12 (12.23%) percent of the country’s total fish production. Even in the fiscal year 2001-02, where the total amount of Hilsa extracted in the country was only slightly more than 2 (2.21) lakh metric tons, in the fiscal year 2020-21 it has reached about 6 (5.65) lakh metric tons.
Even, in the last five fiscal years i.e. from the fiscal year 2016-17 to the fiscal year 2020-21, Hilsa production in the country has grown at a rate of about 14 (13.91%) percent per year. Besides Hilsa, shrimp production in Bangladesh is also constantly increasing. In the financial year 2020-21, the total shrimp production in Bangladesh is two and a half (2.52) lakh metric tons which is increasing at the rate of about 4 and a half (4.43%) percent every year. Shrimp and prawn farming in coastal aquaculture in the country is constantly expanding. As a result, shrimp and prawn production in the country has increased every year in the last 20 years.
Rise In Fisheries Export
Fish and fish products constitute a crucial export commodity for Bangladesh, with particular emphasis on the export of shrimps such as Galda, Bagda, Haryana, as well as other varieties like sea bass, pomfret, cuttlefish, crab, and cuchia to diverse countries worldwide. Currently, Bangladesh exports fish and fish products to over 50 countries, including the European Union, the United States, Japan, Russia, and China, among others, with the European Union being the primary destination. In the fiscal year 2021-22, Bangladesh generated a total revenue of $533 million from the export of fish, shrimp, and other fishery products, which accounted for more than 1 percent of the country’s overall export earnings during that fiscal year. The fisheries sector of Bangladesh has been experiencing a consistent increase in export, which has significantly contributed to the growth of the sector in recent decades.
Challenges for Fisheries Industry
The fisheries sector in Bangladesh is facing significant challenges, including unregulated fishing practices and inadequate river governance. Despite the long history of fishing in the country, unsustainable fishing methods have led to a decline in fish populations in open water bodies such as rivers, channels, canals, and Haur-Baor. In addition, the lack of proper drainage and management has contributed to the decline in fish reproduction. As a consequence, there has been a shift towards fish farming, which can pose challenges to the fisheries sector due to the high production costs associated with raising farmed fish.
The increased cost of production, which includes expenses for food, medicine, and disease prevention, has led to higher prices for domestically produced fish, making imported fish more competitive. According to a recent report by The Daily Observer, Bangladesh imported over 5,000 tonnes of Rui fish from Myanmar in the first six months of the fiscal year 2022-23, with a value of over $6 million. This import trend is primarily driven by the higher price of farmed fish in the country, despite sufficient domestic production. Mainly due to the increase in the price of farmed fish in the country, despite the sufficient fish production in the country, different species of Salmon, Crab, and Shrimp have to be imported from Myanmar every year.
The fisheries sector in Bangladesh is currently facing significant challenges due to climate change. The rapid increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has resulted in changes in global climate patterns, leading to the emergence of new natural disasters. Bangladesh, being situated at a low altitude, is particularly vulnerable to the rise in sea levels, causing frequent high tides and floods in coastal areas, such as the Haur region, and severely impacting fisheries production. These factors have disrupted the growth of the country’s fisheries sector. Additionally, the untimely arrival of rains and resulting water depletion in rivers and agricultural reservoirs, as well as extreme summer temperatures, have adversely affected fish productivity. Furthermore, the annual inundation of the Haur-Baor regions due to flooding has led to significant losses for fish farmers in the country.
Moreover, in addition to natural causes of environmental and climate pollution, the fisheries sector in Bangladesh is facing severe challenges due to human-induced pollution. The country’s small and large rivers are increasingly contaminated by human waste, garbage, and non-biodegradable plastic waste. The pollution is particularly prominent near factories and tanneries that dump waste into rivers, which significantly impacts the fish population.
The use of fertilizers and pesticides in agriculture also contributes to the problem as these chemicals mix with rainwater and subsequently enter the rivers and canals, leading to a reduction in fish production. Previously, rivers were the primary source of fish production in the country, but now their contribution has declined to below 30%. Additionally, under Section 3 of the Fisheries Protection and Conservation Act 1950, the government prohibits all types of fishing, including Hilsa and Jatka, during March and April every year. Despite this ban, many fishermen continue to catch millions of tonnes of jatka and small fish during this period, hindering the normal reproduction of fish in rivers and streams.
Furthermore, a significant impediment in the fisheries sector in Bangladesh is the prevalent lack of education or limited knowledge among the majority of fish farmers regarding fish farming. Consequently, they face challenges in efficiently managing their fish farms, leading to suboptimal outcomes and financial insolvency. Additionally, the fisheries sector encounters other significant challenges, such as inadequate financial backing, insufficient resource management, and a dearth of research facilities for fish and its various species.
The Bay of Bengal is a vital resource for Bangladesh, containing a diverse range of commercially valuable marine life. The area is home to 475 species of marine fish, 36 species of shrimp, 15 species of crab, 5 species of lobster, 301 species of oyster-snail-oyster, 56 species of algae, and 13 species of coral. During the fiscal year 2020-21, the sea area of Bangladesh yielded over 39 (39.4) lakh metric tons of marine fish, constitute 15 percent of the country’s total fish harvest. However, fishermen must risk their lives in small boats to catch these fish, and due to inadequate equipment, they cannot venture deep into the sea to catch more elusive species. Outfitting these fishermen with properly equipped boats would enable them to safely capture deep-sea fish, including species yet undiscovered.
Moreover, as the export of fish from Bangladesh to various countries continues to grow, there is significant potential for expansion in this industry. If fish can be caught and processed effectively, it is likely that fish exports will become a significant export sector in the future. Many Bangladeshi migrant workers, particularly in the Middle East and Arab countries, have a high demand for dry fish products. Therefore, establishing proper processing facilities and improving transportation infrastructure in coastal regions would facilitate the export of fish and related products with ease and quality maintenance.
Despite achieving self-sufficiency in fish production in recent years, Bangladesh is facing a decline in the production of fish from its rivers, channels, canals, and Haur due to various reasons. While farming remains the primary source of fish production, the rising cost of this method has made fish unaffordable for many consumers. Therefore, it is imperative for the government to prioritize the decontamination of all water bodies and promote sustainable fishing practices. Additionally, the development of transportation infrastructure is crucial to further the growth of the fisheries sector. Furthermore, the adoption of advanced technology can significantly increase fish production while minimizing costs, making it a viable solution for Bangladesh’s fisheries industry.