THE oversight and inefficiency of local administration may turn the government’s right move of hilsa closing season ineffective. The government imposes a seasonal ban on catching egg-carrying mother fish to ensure a healthy breeding period during the peak spawning season. However, the initiative will fail without proper support for the fishermen directly affected by the ban. This recent ban was ordered on October 1 without a financial support programme. Twelve days inside the ban, as New Age reported on Sunday, the disaster management and relief ministry initiated the vulnerable group feeding programme for 3,84,462 fishermen living in 25 coastal districts out of 29 hilsa zones. The government, as part of the programme, allocated 20 kilograms of rice per person for the affected by the recent 22-day ban. The hilsa fishing restrictions expired on Saturday, yet the rice has not been distributed. The situation at hand exposes the utter inefficiency and flaw of the government’s planning and the implementation failure of the fisheries department. Not only the decision of financial support and relief was delayed, the allocated relief was never distributed to the affected. Despite receiving official orders from the higher authorities, local representatives dilly-dallied in the disbursement process. Getting no share of the VGF rice, marginalised fishermen were compelled to violate the ban which has made the hilsa fishing ban futile and harmed the breeding.
Since 2007, the government has been ordering the ban in March–April and September–October to protect hilsa fry and mother hilsa. According to the fisheries department, during the recent ban, 12,745 raids were conducted in 29 districts by the law enforcement agencies while mobile courts jailed at least 2,216 fishermen, realised Tk 52.41 lakh in fine and seized about 56.54 tonnes of hilsa and 494.16 lakh metres of fishing net. It is evident from various reports that hilsa fish have increased significantly in the rivers in recent years because of the seasonal bans. This is an important move on part of the government that it has been working to create a congenial ecological environment for hilsa to breed and survive. However, the move will not be successful if the fishermen are left unprotected. This is not the first time that the distribution of VGF rice to the affected fishermen is delayed. During the past ban, which expired in June, a four-month delay could be noticed in VGF rice distribution. If this continues, fishermen will be left with no choice but to violate the ban in future. The result would be a great loss — the number of hilsa would decrease again and the situation will get back to square one.
The government, under the situation, must ensure a timely distribution of VGF rice to the affected fishermen. It must create a mechanism through which only the fishermen affected could get the VGF rice support during seasonal bans without any hassle and delay.
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