Bangladesh's once plentiful rivers run low on fish

Bangladesh's rivers have provided for fisherman Rafiqul Islam's family for generations but a few years ago the 27-year-old noticed his nets were coming up empty.

This year, Islam was forced to leave his small fishing community in northern Mymensingh district to find work, an early victim of what scientists are warning is an alarming decline in freshwater fish stocks.

"Eight, ten years ago it was possible for a fisherman to make a decent living all year round - now, our catches are tiny and most people are having to find other seasonal work to survive," Islam told AFP.

Surveys of fish stocks paint a gloomy picture.

According to a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2000, Bangladesh is home to 266 species of freshwater fish, 54 of which are classified as "threatened" in the group's Red List.

But a more recent study by the Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) stated that at least 25 of the freshwater species of fish are now extinct and over 100 species should be classed as threatened.

"We are losing our freshwater fish at an alarming rate," said Professor Mostafa Ali Reza Hossain of the BAU, whose team has spent a decade travelling the country to track the decline in fish species.

The dwindling of freshwater fish has major repercussions for low-lying and deeply impoverished Bangladesh, home to numerous rivers, floodplains, lakes and lowland areas.

It puts over a million jobs at risk, will accelerate migration of the estimated 1.4 million fishermen to Bangladesh's already overcrowded cities, and removes a crucial, free source of protein for the rural poor.

It also risks having a catastrophic effect on overall biodiversity as the impact ripples up the food chain to birds and reptiles, Hossein said.

Inland fishing is deeply traditional in Bangladesh - as one old adage goes, fish and rice make a Bangladeshi - and another 11 million people are involved in seasonal or part-time fishing or fish-dependent businesses.

Many of these part-time fishermen come from the bottom third of Bangladesh's population - the "ultra-poor" who cannot afford to buy more costly farmed fish, said Dhaka-based food and nutrition professor Keramat Ali.

"The very poor have traditionally relied on fish caught in inland rivers and lakes to supplement their diet - especially for pregnant women, children or the old and sick," he said.

"These fish are crucial for protein supplies - without these fish in their diets, the poor will be missing out on key nutrients as well as protein. How are they meant to afford an alternative to these fish?"

In Bangladesh, a nation with over two hundred rivers, fish accounts for at least 60 percent of the average person's total animal protein intake, according to the department of fisheries.

Overfishing, especially using illegal drag nets, industrial pollution of fish breeding grounds and the impact of pesticide run-off from farms are the primary reasons behind the decline, the BAU's research has found.

In addition, waterways are being filled up for construction of roads, bridges and houses to accommodate Bangladesh's ever-increasing population, which grew nearly two-and-a-half times in four decades.

"The 375-square-kilometre Chalan Beel, the largest inland wetland in the north, is a perfect example of how pesticide use and construction are having an impact on fish," the BAU's Reza said.

According to BAU research, pesticide use has increased nearly sixfold since 1982, with fish production in Chalan Beel halving in the same period.

In addition, a 25-kilometre highway built nearly a decade ago dividing the Chalan Beel has severely limited fish movement which has had a devastating effect on fish breeding patterns, Reza said.

Commercial overfishing, including the use of gill and drag nets and explosives such as TNT are also a major part of the problem, Reza said. While such harmful fishing methods are illegal, the laws are rarely enforced.

"The adage 'fish and rice make a Bangladeshi' is already not true - but if we don't act now to save our fisheries, the next generation face a tremendous loss for which they will, rightly, hold us responsible," he said.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

    £6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing