Fishermen living near the Sundarbans and in the coastal areas are forced to borrow from local moneylenders to cover their daily expenses
About 300,000 fishermen in Khulna have set out to the Bay of Bengal to net Ilish for five months at a stretch, at the end of a 22-day ban imposed to enable fish breeding.
Officials at the Department of Fisheries said thousands of fishermen of the coastal districts are taking preparation to go to the Bay of Bengal on Thursday, to catch Ilish after the long pause that started on October 9.
According to local sources the fishermen leave home and family behind for the sea, just so they can earn barely enough to pay off a vicious cycle of debt to hungry loan sharks.
Lacking loan opportunities from banks and financial assistance from the government, fishermen living near the Sundarbans and in the coastal areas are forced to borrow from local moneylenders to cover their daily expenses and finance their extended fishing trips into the Bay of Bengal.
Panchanan Biswas, a fisherman from Katakhali Jele Palli, said: "This voyage is going to cost me at least Tk10 lakh but we have no other choice but to borrow from loan sharks at cutthroat interest rates. After the fishing season ends, any profit will go to paying back the interest on our debt. "
Local fishermen in the district's Jele Palli are uncertain about their journey leaving their families behind on the banks of the Kopotakkho River where erosion is slowly swallowing their homes.
Dipankar Biswas, a fisherman from Jele Palli, said: "Our families will be here dealing with the river erosion, while we fish for our lives in the unforgiving sea. We are trying to find hope in the middle of hopelessness."
Dinbondhu Biswas, another fisherman, said: "The ocean is unpredictable and sometimes fishermen don't make it back but we are left with no choice. We have debts to pay.
"The profits made from our voyage will all go to paying back loans and interest. Once we are free of the debt, we will once again borrow to cover our daily expenses. We cannot escape from this vicious cycle."
The fishermen had earlier made preparations make sail on the last day of October with permission from the forest department, as soon as the fishing ban ended, which began on October 9.
The Char areas including Alor Kol, next to the Sundarbans, will be home to them, off and on for the next five months, where they will dry the fish they catch out in the open seas. This will continue till March next year.
Tapan Mandal, a fisherman from Kheyaghat of Hitampur, said: "Fishermen here are busy with boats, engines, nets, ropes, oil barrels, and choosing a team of people to sail with. It takes four mechanics, Tk4 lakh, and 40 days to build a seaworthy fishing boat."
The government imposed a ban on catching, selling, hoarding and transportation of hilsa in the Bay of Bengal and different rivers for 22 days to boost Hilsa production through protection of the mother fish during its peak breeding season.
Officials at the Fisheries Department, Bangladesh Navy, Coast Guard, district and upazila administrations, police and Rapid Action Battalion conducted drives to prevent Hilsa fishing during the period.
Executive magistrates conducted mobile courts and punished a number of fishermen who violated the ban.
Local fishermen in a human chain at Chila Bazar in Mongla upazila yesterday morning alleged that the Indian fishermen had entered Bangladesh water territory illegally to catch Ilish during the ban period.
They sought government step to stop Indian fishermen’s intrusion into the territory of Bangladesh.
General Secretary of Mongla Fishermen Association Abdur Rashid Howlader, leaders of fishermen Pilat Mondal, Geeta Halder, Nazmul Haque and Maruf Billah spoke at the human chain.