The government has banned netting mother ilish for 22 days from October 9-30 to protect mother ilish to ensure breeding
Some local fishermen and traders in Kushtia, Rajbari, and Pabna districts are netting ilish fish despite the ongoing ban.
Reportedly, a local fish smuggling syndicate with the help of law enforcement are forcing villagers to illegally catch, sell, transport, hoard, and market fish from the Padma river.
A 35km area of the river in Khoksha upazila spanning six villages was declared an ilish sanctuary but many fishermen are netting the fish in the sanctuary zone, despite a 22-day ban commencing October 1, said district fisheries office sources.
The government has banned netting mother ilish for 22 days from October 9-30 to protect mother ilish to ensure breeding.
During the period, no fishermen are allowed to throw nets in waters where there is movement of ilish, say fisheries officials.
Local fishermen say in most cases they are forced by the locally influential syndicate to fish despite the ban because they fear if they do not, it will be difficult for them to live in that area altogether.
The fish smuggling syndicate is using the Goupgram, Amlabaria, Kuthipara, Amrabaria, Moklur Char, and Khaschar villages to hire students and housewives to transport loads of fish to market.
Locals and students carrying the fish to the market under the nose of law enforcement say they are regularly harassed by the police for illegally transporting the fish and often get fined heftily. In most cases the money goes in the pockets of police on duty.
Visiting the area, we found the whole upazila seemed like an enormous fair, with fishermen seen netting a huge number of mother ilish and instantly selling it to waiting buyers.
Blaming a particular influential local, wishing to stay anonymous a college student said, he had to carry the fish and face the consequences no matter what. Otherwise, it would be hard for his family to live in the village.
Abu Bakkar Siddik, office assistant at the Upazila Fisheries Office was seen with 5kgs of jhatka ilish on his motorcycle. Asked, he said he confiscated the fish from a smuggler.
Later this correspondent found out that he forcibly took the fish from a buyer.
Hazrat Ali, a local farmer said the syndicate has ties with the police and the police seize fish from them for personal consumption and fine them as well.
"We villagers are caught in the middle. If we do not agree to transport the fish, local influentials give us a hard time, and if we do, the police take away the fish and make us pay fines."
"Even last Friday, police took away two maunds of ilish from a trader," he added.
Pointing to the police's involvement in the unauthorized fishing, Chairman Aminur Rahman of Ambaria union parishad said around 3,000 of some 19,000 villagers are directly involved in fishing in the area.
"Two UP members of my union work for the syndicate. Coordinating with them, police make regular drives in our villages, seize the fish, and take away the bigger ones for their personal consumption."
Denying the villagers’ charges, Bhabaniganj police station Assistant Sub-Inspector Kamal Hossain said: "We made those drives with officials from the Fisheries Department and upazila administration, and the allegations are preposterous."
"We ask people to come forward with proof of the incident, so that it can be proven."
Contacted about the confusion over the matter, Upazila Fisheries Officer Rashed Hasan said: "I am trying my best to stop the fishing, but there is still a lot we should implement to stop the fishing."
"We have arrested two and seized almost 150kgs of fish," he added.