Over 1,200 arrested in last 18 days
Fishermen in Shariatpur have defied the government’s ban and caught mother ilish.
Even law enforcement – including the coast guard, police, fisheries officials and executive magistrates – has been attacked, while conducting drives against the fishermen.
The seasonal fishermen involved are protected by influential local people.
In the last 18 days, around 1,200 fishermen have been arrested with 14 metric tons of mother ilish; and six million meters of “current jal,” a banned nylon fibre net, has been seized. Of the fishermen, 850 have been sentenced to prison.
However, locals are saying that due to a lack of skilled and trained personnel, the government has failed to prevent the catching of mother ilish this year.
The government has imposed a 22-day ban on catching, selling, and transporting ilish. A 7,000km breeding ground is off-limits to guarantee the safe spawning of this popular fish during its peak breeding period.
The ban started on October 7 and will last until October 28—as this is the peak time period for mother ilish to lay their eggs.
Any breach of the ban will result in one to two years of imprisonment and a maximum fine of Tk5,000. The government has imposed this ban on Ilish fishing every year, since 2003, to protect mother ilish.
Ilish production in Bangladesh has increased by 66% over the last nine years.
The Shariatpur District Fisheries Department has said around 70km of water bodies have been identified as breeding grounds or sanctuaries for mother ilish. They said this vast area has been difficult for them to monitor, due to a lack of experienced staff.
The department mentioned that since the start of the drives against illegal ilish catching, some influential people from Zajira upazila have been hiring fishermen from other areas to illegally catch it.
Every day, more than a hundred speed boats, and over a thousand boats, full of fishermen are catching ilish. The catching area extends from Zajira Palerchar to Nariar Naoapara, and from Wapda area to Gosairhat upazila’s Shaatpara area along the Padma River.
The fish are sold in neighbouring areas in local fish markets and in retail at around 50 locations in neighbouring villages—at very low rates.
The local administration is helpless in controlling the situation. The detained fishermen say they know it is illegal to catch mother ilish but they are still doing it to earn their living. They also complain that most of the fishermen do not receive government-provided rice afforded to those qualifying for four-month vulnerable group feeding (VGF) assistance.
They also claim that they have to repay loans taken from NGOs and money lenders, for which they are risking everything—even knowing the consequences.
Shariatpur District Fisheries Official Bishwajit Boiragi said: “The total numbers of listed fishermen in the area are 32,324 and out of them, 16,355 get the VGF assistance at the moment. The ones who catch ilish during the ban, are not from this number—rather, they are outsiders.”
He also said: “During the last few days while the drives were conducted against these illegal fishermen: the UNO, executive magistrates, police, and coast guard members were attacked. This is because the fishermen working illegally have the backing of some dishonest and influential people.
Bishwajit further said they are trying to get modern boats and experienced men to tackle the problem to prevent it from happening in the future.