Ilish production declines in Padma-Meghna of Chandpur

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Ilish is mainly a sea species but prefers to lay its eggs in rivers due to no salinity and less current. It is caught in all major rivers, and their Bay of Bengal estuary Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

With the Department of Fisheries having no knowledge or appropriate data on the issue, Dhaka Tribune’s Bilkis Irani dives into the reasons and related matters in this first of the four-part series of reports

The Padma-Meghna rivers in Chandpur district have suddenly seen a decline in ilish fish production this year while huge production is on the rise in the south. 

According to data collected from the Department of Fisheries, ilish production continuously increased in Bangladesh for the last six years. 

In the last two years, Bangladesh rose from fourth to third place in natural source fish production. Researchers believed that ilish was the main contributor behind this. 

Ilish fish enter into the Meghna river besides Nijhum Island, from the estuary of the Bay of Bengal, the southernmost boundary of the country. 

Hundreds of fishing boats go to the sea to catch ilish there. Ilish go to the Padma River through the Meghna river in Bhola-Barisal-Chandpur-Shariatpur. Most of the record production of ilish in the country last year came from this vast area. However, this year the scenario is different. 

After investigating the matter, Dhaka Tribune found very few ilish were caught in the Padma-Meghna rivers, which is not enough for a fisherman to earn his living.

Department of Fisheries unaware of the decline

This correspondent visited all the fish ghat in Chandpur area and travelled through the Padma and Meghna rivers to know how many ilish the fishermen could catch.

While moving on the Padma river in the northern part of Chandpur, only five fishermen were seen on a boat pulling a fishing net from the river. This correspondent saw the net brought back no ilish, instead jatka fish.

“This is not ‘current jal (net).’ This net is for catching big ilish, yet we are not getting any,” a fisherman wishing to be anonymous said.

The same situation was witnessed for another 20 fishing boats, they were seen catching jatka fish. Among them only two boats were able to catch fish; in total they caught three ilish fish weighing 950 grams, 1,150gm and 1,200gm.

The same scenario was seen on the Meghna River, in the southern part of Chandpur. Among the 10 fishing boats seen there, only one boat caught a big ilish that weighed about 1,400gm.

Ilish which were found at the Chandpur Boro Bazar fish ghat were coming from the marine and coastal areas. Some were seen coming from Barisal, Noakhali, Bhola, and Barguna, which are locally known as “Namar Ilish.”

When the information was given to the Department of Fisheries, they said they were not aware of the decline in ilish production in the region, and said they would look into the matter soon.

According to the Shariatpur District Fisheries Office, 5,263 tons of ilish was produced in Shariatpur in the last financial year. 

In July-August of last year, the fishermen caught 1,016 tons of ilish. And in these two months of this year, the fishermen have caught only 233 tons in the Padma-Meghna region, which is 77% less than last year. But no data for river ilish was found from Chandpur district.

Fishermen disappointed

Fisherman Rahmat Ullah was waiting for two hours with a six member team on the upper Meghna river to pull up the net from the river on Thursday morning.

Later when the team started pulling the fish net, they found only four jatka inside it. 

The fishermen got angry and disappointed, saying this was the second phase of netting in five hours on the day but no ilish. 

Last year, around this time they were able to catch a huge shoal of ilish worth more than Tk20,000 in a day. But this year, it was not even Tk5,000 in a day, they said.

“The owner of the boat will take 50% of the amount. Is it possible to survive after dividing the rest 50% among us 6 fishermen?” Rahmat asked.

“We could not catch ilish since the government barred catching it on certain months during the breeding and egg releasing period. How can I feed my two little children if I cannot catch enough big ilish in a day?” he said while wiping tears from his eyes. 

A 22-day ban on catching, selling, hoarding and transporting of Ilish will come into effect from October 14 | Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Meanwhile, another boat nearby pulled the net after three hours and found a big ilish of 1,400gm along with some other small ilish. 

“Hurrah,” the fishermen shouted. They smiled a little and said that, if they get more big ilish, their struggle would be successful.

When asked why there was not enough ilish in the rivers, Shafiqul Islam, a fisherman, replied, “We don’t know the reason but we guess catching of huge ilish in others districts may be a reason as to why it is happening with us.”

In Master Ghat, Noakhali, it was found that fishermen over there caught little more than the  Chandpur region.

Accusations of selling Namar as Chandpur ilish

Most fishermen and local traders said, ilish which came from the sea and other districts were being sold by passing them off as Padma and Chandpur ilish to get more money. 

While visiting the Boro Station Machh Bazar at Chandpur, the biggest ilish fish market in Bangladesh, this newspaper found huge shoals of sea fish boats more than the river fish boats on the fish ghat. The bazaar also was found full of marine Namar ilish.

Abdul Khaleq, president of Chandpur Matsya Banik Somobay Samity, mentioned the same problem. 

“Each day 2,000-3,000 maunds of ilish comes in the Chandpur Boro Station Bazaar, but no Padma-Chandpur ilish. Since no ilish was found in the river, therefore it is a warning sign for future ilish production,” he said.

“Since traders are selling marine ilish with the name of Padma and Chandpur the tradition of Chandpur is getting lost and fishermen of Chandpur are suffering immensely. No action has yet been taken from the administration and they do not even know about it,” he further said.

Meanwhile, Chandpur Deputy Commissioner (DC) Majedur Rahman said no one has yet filed any complaint about this and asked the reporter to file a complaint. 

When asked why they are waiting for a complaint since it has been happening openly in the market all along, he replied, they are monitoring and taking action about any kinds of fraudulent information, but he denied to speak about what kind of action they took and how many people they fined.

No importance to fisheries officials

While asking several times for individual data on ilish catching from the river in Chandpur district and sea till date, the fisheries department could not provide any and said they do not store river data individually.

Masud Ara Momi, deputy chief, Ilish section, Department of Fisheries said ilish in Chandpur river has increased compared to previous years. When asked how they can ensure it without any data and say that the ilish which comes to Chandpur Bazar are really caught from the river, she was unable to reply and instead said: “It is difficult to identify the sea ilish and river ilish.” 

Meanwhile, to get a comment on this issue, this correspondent tried several times to contact the Director General of the Department of Fisheries Kazi Shams Afroz over phone and through text message, but was unable to connect with her.

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