Environment, Green Economy

Bangladesh Needs Intensive Surveys to Gauge Potential of Its ‘Blue Economy’

This report is produced by UNB United News of Bangladesh and IPS Inter Press Service.

DHAKA, Bangladesh, Feb 27 2019 - (UNB/IPS) – Bangladesh needs intensive surveys in the Bay of Bengal, complemented by proper interpretation of the findings and appropriate research to gauge the potential of its ‘blue economy’ as the country largely depends on the stocks of living and non-living marine resources falling within its Exclusive Economic Zone, experts said.

In case of marine fisheries, they stressed the need for effective management to ensure the sustainability of marine fisheries resources by avoiding overfishing and fishing during breeding period, otherwise fish stock might severely decline here like the Gulf of Thailand.

The newly formed Awami League government also pledged in its 2018 election manifesto that oil and gas exploration will be intensified as part of its plans for ensuring optimum utilisation of the blue economy or marine resources.

In 2016, Bangladesh procured a research vessel, equipped with the latest technology for fisheries and other oceanographic research, from Malaysia to assess the country’s marine living resources, having obtained a vast tract of the northern Indian Ocean following the disposal of longstanding disputes with two neighboring countries.

The 37.8-meter-long multipurpose research vessel started its assessment in the Bay in November, 2016.

Though the survey vessel has so far completed 16 cruises, it will take more time to gain a complete picture of fisheries resources in Bangladeshi waters in the Bay of Bengal.

Prof Sayedur Rahman Chowdhury of the Institute of Marine Sciences and Fisheries at Chittagong University said the fisheries resources in the Bay of Bengal have long been showing several indications of decline for lack of effective fisheries management in the past decades, particularly resulting in overfishing.

He said different data indicate that many large fish species like Lakkha (Indian Salmon) and Coral fish, which were available in past years, are hardly found in the country’s waters now.

“If this trend continues, the marine areas are likely to be turned into an almost barren zone for fish within 10 years or so. So, immediate measures are required for effective fisheries management,” he said adding that the Gulf of Thailand had lost all its fish in the space of just 40 years.

Prof Chowdhury said Bangladesh may focus on producing highly skilled maritime human resources, including marine engineers, navigators and in other highly technical trades, targeting the international employment market to boost remittances.

Besides, a lot of foreign currency goes outside the country against container transports as more than 90 percent carriers used in this sector are owned by foreign companies.

Prof Chowdhury said the sheer size of the fishing fleet consisting of more than 50,000 boats and some 270 industrial trawlers, is possibly contributing to the long-term overfishing in Bangladeshi waters.

He said Bangladesh should concentrate more on tapping marine fish as there is a better potential of sustained supply of fish, if managed properly, than that of other mineral resources—petroleum and non-petroleum ones—in the Bay of Bengal, which will eventually dry up no matter how carefully we extract those resources.

Dr Kawser Ahmed, a professor at the Oceanography Department of Dhaka University, said Bangladesh is yet to fix the level of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) of marine fisheries resources.

“We need proper coastal and ocean governance for the sustainability of marine resources,” he said adding that overfishing is dangerous for the sustainability of marine fisheries as the fish productivity is comparatively low in the northern Bay of Bengal. The coast is also being used indiscriminately, he added.

Mentioning that there are now 16-18 ministries related to the blue economy, he said Bangladesh needs to form a separate ocean or marine resources ministry and bring all wings and cells of the ministries under it for unlocking the potential of the blue economy.

Prof Kawser emphasised procurement of an oil-gas survey vessel to explore hydrocarbon deposits in the Bay of Bengal saying that it will be cost effective alongside helping create skilled manpower by facilitating students to conduct research in this area.

Fisheries and Livestock Secretary Md Raisul Alam Mondal said they have taken various initiatives to enhance harvesting fisheries in a sustainable way for implementing the government’s plan.

The initiatives include installation of effective communication tools to communicate with sea fishing vessels, ensuring fishing monitoring system and purchasing longline fishing boats and purse seine fishing boats for enhancing the harvesting capacity of the private sector.

Purse-seine fishing in open water is generally considered to be an efficient form of fishing. It has no contact with the seabed and can have low levels of bycatch (accidental catch of unwanted species).

The secretary said the contribution of marine fish in the country’s total fish production is now around 9-10 percent, which needs to be increased.

The survey vessel, purchased from Malaysia, in its 16 cruises so far detected 300-350 fish species in the Bay of Bengal. But more time is needed to get a complete picture of the stock of marine fisheries resources there, he said.

Secretary Mondal said it is important to know the breeding period of each fish species for the sake of sustainable fishing in the sea. Now the government keeps fishing banned for 65 specific days every year in Bangladesh’s exclusive economic zone in the Bay of Bengal.

Bangladesh won a total of 131,098 square kilometers of sea areas –111,631sq km against Myanmar in 2012 and 19,467sq km against India in 2014 — following the disposal of longstanding disputes with the two neighbouring countries — India and Myanmar — by two international courts.

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