Speakers at a virtual discussion yesterday underscored the need for providing technological, financial and educational support to those working in artisanal marine fisheries to ensure their human rights and enrich their livelihoods.

Pointing out the contribution of coastal areas’ fisher folks who risk their lives to provide highly nutritious seafood to the market, the speakers called for recognition of people employed in the small-scale coastal fisheries sector as labour force by amending the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006.

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They made the remarks at a virtual discussion titled “Sector-wide impact assessment (SWIA) of artisanal marine fisheries sector of Bangladesh” organised by Mansher Jonno Foundation (MJF) and The Daily Star.

The SWIA was carried out between September 2018 and March 2021 under a project of the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) and MJF.

The assessment — consisting of a survey, focus group discussions, interviews and analyses — was carried out among 1,400 men and 600 women in Cox’s Bazar and Barguna.

Brief findings along with some recommendations were presented in the discussion.

“About 80 percent fishermen feel they have insufficient safety equipment on board and half of the fishermen said there is no warning system that reached them at sea,” reads the assessment, adding that 97 percent fishermen found harbour facilities unsafe.

They go fishing with fear of violent encounters with robbers at sea and death by drowning. During fishing, they lack adequate food, drinking water and spaces to rest.

One-third of respondents said they are underpaid and caught in cycles of debt. Fishers are not recognised as labourers under the existing labour law and that is why they could not undergo the official registration procedure required for trade unions.

Almost all the fishermen reported fishing as their main source of income, but it does not generate enough money to cover their families’ basic expenses, reads the assessment.

About 70 percent reported having lost half or more of their income during the Covid-19 pandemic, while 74 percent did not receive any social security allowances.

Wives of fishermen live with a high degree of insecurity, and according to the report, 68 percent of women respondents report that they have experienced problems and harassment when family members go to sea.

MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam requested the government to take the recommendations of the SWIA into cognisance and incorporate those in the appropriate policies.

Professor Abdul Wahab, team leader of Worldfish’s Ecofish project, said the women are the worst sufferers as many fishermen face disastrous accidents while fishing at sea.

He suggested women of the fishing villages form co-ops and communities to help each other at the time of need.

National Operations Officer of Food and Agriculture Organisation, Begum Nurun Naher, said fishermen often go out to sea without any proper communication system, and as a result they often encounter disastrous weather at sea.

Dr Samiya Ahmed Selim, associate professor and director of Centre for Sustainable Development, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) suggested facilitating alternative livelihoods for women in fishing villages to overcome their financial insecurity.

Emphasising the need for pollution reduction at sea, Dr Md Niamul Naser, professor and chairperson of Dhaka University’s zoology department, said valuable fishing grounds are being lost to pollution, adding to the misery of fishermen.

Saying that many fishermen get trapped by dadon (loan) system, Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, executive director of COAST Trust called for an integrated plan to ensure human rights in the small-scale fisheries sector.

Jatiya Sramik Jote General Secretary Naimul Ahsan Jewel said fishermen of coastal areas must be included in the development process if the government wants to carry on its pledge to leave no one behind.

Sille Stidsen, senior adviser of human rights and development at Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) and Towfiqul Arif, additional secretary at Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock also spoke at the event.

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