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‘West Bengal must do more to protect the livelihood of hilsa fishermen’

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on November 05, 2017

The livelihood of fishermen and conservation efforts must go hand-in-hand

International Water Association study finds dip in hilsa catch in last 30 years



Efforts initiated by the West Bengal government to conserve the prized hilsa fish have not been as successful as those taken up by Bangladesh, according to experts.

Main challenge

Experts from the non-governmental International Water Association (IWA), who studied hilsa conversation measures in West Bengal and Bangladesh, however, said the main challenge is to strike a balance between conservation and protecting the livelihoods of 5-million traditional fisherfolk who depend on hilsa fishing.

Hilsa catch has been declining over the last 30 years in both countries due to overfishing, siltation of river beds, reduced water flow and fragmentation of rivers during dry months.

A few years ago, the Bangladesh government took up a slew of measures, including the banning of hilsa fishing during the spawning and breeding seasons.

Its regulatory steps also included identifying the breeding nurseries of hilsa, which were then declared as temporary ‘no-go-zone’ sanctuaries for fisherfolk.

Recently, their conservation efforts even moved from regulatory regimes to an approach that combines regulations with economic incentives to fishermen, said Sushmita Mandal of IWA, who was among those carried out the study.

Poor outcome

Though the West Bengal fisheries department also subsequently amended their respective inland and marine fisheries laws to implement a ban on hilsa fishing during the spawning and breeding season, the implementation was patchy and hence produced little results, she said.

An anadromous fish that spends its life cycle in rivers, estuaries, coastal areas and the sea, hilsa is one of the most-important fishes in the Bengal Delta.

While the riverine hilsa is more savoured, the predominant part of the landings, both in West Bengal and Bangladesh, come from the sea.

One of the major problems of the present day conservation management is that it doesn’t take into consideration the livelihood of traditional hilsa fisherfolk. “This is true for both WB as well as Bangladesh, even though the neighbouring country may be slightly better in dealing with the issues,” said Mandal.

The livelihood of fishermen and conservation must go hand-in-hand if it has to work.

In other words, hilsa conservation needs to go beyond the immediate ecological context, she said.

Published on November 05, 2017
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