The close season for hilsa, which spans 87 days as put into practice in 2015 — for 65 days usually beginning on May 20 and the for 22 days beginning on October 9 — to increase the stock of the fish, which declined because of overfishing and poor regulation in the past, has since then paid dividends. Bangladesh is said — as a 2017 study of the Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem project, an international partnership involving the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and governments in the region, shows — to be accounting for about 60 per cent of the total catch in the world in the hilsa industry reported to be worth more than $2 billion. Although the ban pays dividends, reports on legal action against the fishing people engaged in hilsa catch keep coming during close seasons, suggesting that a stringent enforcement has not been possible. And this happens largely because of economic reasons that the fishing people are mired in. The close seasons affect an estimated 1.6 million people and many of them venture to breach the restrictions as the government measures to help them in those days of no work hardly prove adequate.
It is in this context a call has been rightly put out at a discussion, as New Age reported on Sunday, for stepped up measures to increase the coverage to help the fishing people and alternative employments for them in the period. The close season, which spans about three months, and rough weather, together spanning about six months, as the discussants say, keep the fishing people off their trade and, therefore, their livelihood for the duration. In a situation like this consequent on inadequate government measures, while many fishing people breach the restrictions to earn their living, ultimately defeating the purpose of the close seasons, many others, especially those who borrow from moneylenders and microcredit institutions at high interest rate for survival, slide down the poverty ladder and fall into debt traps. Many are also reported to have cut down their expenses on health care and education, burdening public health and other related issues in the end. In addition, there are the issues of irregularities in the distribution of the help to the fishing people. About 400,000 fishing people now receive, as the organisers of the discussion say, 40 kilograms of rich each a month during the close seasons, which still leaves out three-fourths of the 1.6 million people.
While such a small amount of only rice is not enough to run a family for a month, there are complaints that many receive rice less than what is allocated because of irregularities born out of the distribution system that is done by the local government institutions that are largely influenced by ruling party people. The government must immediately look into the problems of distribution and strengthen the safety net to effectively benefit from hilsa close seasons.
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