Extreme poverty is forcing fishermen in Barishal division to violate the ongoing 22-day fishing ban as the assistance they get falls far short of their need.
The rice given to them as assistance for 20 days during the ban beginning 4 October is not enough for a family, complained the fishermen.
“Is only 20kg rice enough for a family of five to seven members to survive for 22 days? We have other daily needs, which we cannot meet with this aid,” said Hasib Ahmed, a young fisherman from Rajapur in Jhalakathi.
The division also has around 60,000 to 70,000 unregistered fishermen who are still out of the food assistance programme, according to the fishermen community.
The fishermen have no strong organisation to press for their demands and rights, said Hasib Ahmed.
He said, “Fishermen who are below 18 years cannot register as a voter identity card is mandatory for the registration. Being registered is the prime condition for getting any kind of aid from the government. Many young fishermen in the division have no voter identity card and they cannot enlist themselves for the aid.”
Till Friday last, 96 fishermen were arrested for fishing during the ban, according to Barishal fisheries department office.
The reporter talked to around 20 fishermen of four districts under the division. They said they bought nets and boats borrowing money on high interests from local lenders. Most of them have to pay weekly instalments for repaying the loan.
“If we have no daily income, how can we pay the instalment regularly?” asked a fisherman.
There are 3,64,689 registered fishermen under six districts in Barishal division, said Nazmus Salehin, additional divisional director of Fisheries Department. “Among them, 3,60,124 have been given the rice while 4,365 registered fishermen did not get any aid,” he claimed.
“We have started some projects under which the fishermen will be offered work opportunities during the ban,” he added.
“We give Tk1-2 lakh loan in the Bangla month of Boishakh for buying nets or repairing the fishing boat. We provide the loan on the condition that they would sell their fishes to us,” said Tipu, a wholesale fish buyer of Port Road in Barishal, adding that they provide the loan to the owner of a fishing trawler, who hires the fishermen.
Abdus Salam, a fishing trawler owner from Dhalchar under Charfashion in Bhola, said that the fishing trawler owners have to spend a handsome amount every year for repairing the net and trawler. Often they are forced to borrow money from different sources if their fishing trawlers face any kind of accident.
“We try our best to support the fishermen during the ban, but we cannot afford to support them all,” he added.
Fishermen from different districts of Barishal division said it would be possible for them to abide by the government ban if they are provided with an adequate amount of food assistance during the ban.