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Shrimp fry collection continues defying existing law
and Lucille Sircar
Now is the high season
of shrimp fry collection from nature in the coastal areas. Thousands of
men, women and children are engaged day and night harvesting shrimp seedlings
with their push, pull and trap nets in the rivers and channels that crisscross
Khulna, Shatkhira and Bagerhat district encompassing the Sundarbans.
In recognition that indiscriminate fry collection from nature is destructive,
the Bangladesh Government banned collection of fries of shrimp and other
fish from the coastal belt. But the law promulgated in September 2000
remains confined only in paper. Influence and pressure of the shrimp traders
and interest groups have rendered the law ineffective. The officers concerned
in the Forest Department have said that the government has set aside the
law in consideration of severe consequences of abrupt ban on the poor
Most of the shrimp fry collectors in the Shibsha, Pashur, Mongla, Chunkuri
and other rivers of greater Khulna region never knew about the ban on
shrimp fry collection. The legal measure was taken at the higher level
and then relaxed. The fry collectors continued to procure written permission
for a fee from the Forest Department for fry collection.
The Sundabans, declared
a world heritage in 1999 by UNESCO is considered to be particularly vulnerable
due to prawn aquaculture and wild catch of shrimp fries that sustains
the industry. The scene in Pashur, one of the major rivers that flows
through the massive mangrove from the Mongla Port will make anyone curious.
Human beings pushing through saline water, nets and boats everywhere ravage
the river round the clock for months.
Fry collectors in Pashur River said that average weekly income of a boat
of two persons is Tk. 2,000 fries. Abdul Rashid (30), Md. Sohrab Hossain
Howladar (45) and Kamal Fakir (30) of Bottala village of Jiudhara Union
under the nearby Morelganj Upazila live in Jyomonir Thota during fry season.
They live in a hut for Tk. 200 per month and catch shrimp fry from the
Pashur river. All of them have stationary nets, boats and push nets. In
their villages they are day laborers. But during the shrimp fry season
they catch fries for six months. There are others who make a living out
of prawn fry harvest and its trade. Middlemen and moneylenders take the
fry from the collectors to the cultivators. They are often accused of
cheating the fry collectors.
Jyomonir Thota is a big trading center where the fry collectors and the
middlemen bring the catch twice a day. The fries come from nearby and
far-off rivers in the Sundarbans. It is alleged that the Forest Department
also has its share of the income from the fry trade. To catch 1,400 fries
in the Sundarbans Reserved forest a boat needs to procure a pass for Tk.
250.00 from the nearby forest office. One such forest office is Chandpai
Range Forest Office. Fry collection activity is seen as farther as Katka,
the southeast corner of the Sundarbans embracing the Bay of Bengal.
Fry collection is said to be a significant economic activity for the local
poor. The authorities argue that if a ban is imposed on shrimp fry collection,
these poor people will be out of job. This seems to be quite an argument
for those who have taken fry collection as an important economic occupation
for many years.
However, there are others aspects of fry harvest and its trade. Each of
thousand of boats in the forest regularly collect wood and wood products
from the Sundarbans and kill myriad quantities of fries of other shrimp
and fish. More importantly, these fry collectors have been pushed out
of their traditional occupation in agriculture because much of the land
in the coastal areas are now shrimp farms which produce a commodity, not
locally consumed. In view of long term ecological destruction shrimp fry
collection from Nature is banned in many countries.
Bangladesh, criticised for allowing opportunists in the shrimp industry
immense leverage, took the legal measure but then digressed allegedly
under pressure. The legal matter is not clear even to the government authorities
in different departments. The Fisheries Officer Habibur Rahman Khondkar
of Khulna district said, "We don't know how the Forest Department
offices issues passes for collection in the reserved forest."
The law banning shrimp fry collection, "Protection and Conservation
of Fish Rules,1985" says, "No person shall catch or cause to
be caught fry or post larvae of fish, shrimp and prawns of any kind, in
any form and in any way in the estuary and coastal waters of Bangladesh"
(SRO No. 289/Act/2000). This law is simply ignored and the indiscriminate
shrimp harvest from nature continue as usual. Beforehand, no fry collector
had required a pass. Instead, each boat required a Boat Loaded Certificate-BLC.
Now after the mockery with the law the fry collectors are paying to continue
their job which may prove fatal for the Sundarban ecosystem.
Moral and Lucille Sircar, researcher of Society for Environment and Human