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25 March, 2019 00:00 00 AM

Socio-economic condition of coastal fishing communities

Fishing is one of the few sectors open to people who are forced out of agriculture. The coastal fishing communities possess distinct socio-political, cultural and economic characteristics
Sultan Mohammed Giasuddin
Socio-economic condition of coastal fishing communities

The coastal and riverine fisherfolk of Bangladesh are playing a prominent role in the economic arena of Bangladesh and also provide needed animal protein in the country. The communities possess distinct socio-political and economic characteristics. They are socially neglected, politically underestimated, culturally ill treated and geographically isolated and vulnerable. The life and livelihood of fisherfolk male, female and children are highly influenced and surrounded by several external and internal socio-economic and political factors, issues and problems. These are not basically similar with the problems faced by the broad majority of the landless people. The marginalized and disadvantaged fisherfolk communities are socially and economically engulfed in a vicious cycle of exploitation and bondage. They do not have their own platform of collective power through which they could be able to secure their rights and basic human needs.   
Beside Hindu traditional fishing communities, fishery is one of the few sectors open to people who are forced out of agriculture. Other alternatives include working as a farm labourer or rickshaw - puller in their own village, or employment in the cities. Thus, all these immigrant farming people first try to survive as fisherfolk; if they fail they are ready to take up any job for mere subsistence. Many fish traders do other odd jobs such as working as day labourer, rickshaw-pullers, and small traders and so on. Their aim is to survive and to remain in the village as long as possible. Government khas lands and forestlands are beyond their access for various reasons. Deprived of land and living in remote habitats, having little surplus money and no access to credit, being illiterate, often isolated by caste and religion, there are few income options left for them. A combination of over fishing, destructive fishing, pollution and mangrove destruction has stressed fisheries stocks and catches. The catch per unit effort is declining. Less fish for more effort translates to fewer earnings. Lower earnings are further aggravated by the informal credit-market linkage, which exploits the fisherfolk. With few or no alternative income opportunities available, this means reduced quality of life. As poverty has many dimensions in these communities, it has to be looked at through a variety of indicators-level of income and consumption, social condition and position, and now increasingly through the indicators of vulnerability to environmental risk, socio-political access, human rights and lack of institution.
The fisheries sector can be broadly divided into four sub-sectors: (a) inland capture fisheries (rivers, estuaries and flood plain fisheries); (b) aquaculture (primarily pond fishery and coastal aquaculture); (c) marine industrial (large-scale) capture fisheries; and (d) marine artisanal (Small-scale) fisheries. Small-scale fisheries play a very significant role in Bangladesh fisheries. Prior to the introduction of mechanized boats, the entire marine fish catch of the country came from this sector. Even now, it generates more than 80 percent of all marine fish landings and all inland fish production. (Demographic Change in Coastal Fishing Communities and its Implications for the Coastal Environment, 2000, FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 403.)
The coastal fisherfolk communities possess distinct socio-political, cultural and economic characteristics. They are mainly involved in capture fisheries rather than culture fisheries. So, the livelihood pattern and socio-economic, cultural and community context of these communities are distinct and diversified with different identity. On the basis of different identity and diversities of these communities, their social, economic and political entitlement, equity and human dignity are not efficiently and effectively considered, addressed and included in the process and stream of development initiatives taken by the Government, other Non-Government and Private sectors. The coastal fisherfolk communities have become ‘Forgotten’ segment in the process of development and ‘Policy Victim’ community. Consequently, they are carrying multiple burdens in their lives and livelihood.
 The coastal fisheries do not have separate institutional identity, as the coastal area is not regarded as a separate administrative unit. So, generally speaking the administrative structure and institutional arrangements of the area is not different from the rest of the country. Of course, its unique physical location, distinct natural and ecological features affect the social and economic existence of the local population. The local `institutional` scene is also not radically different from the rest of the country. But because of extreme poverty and vulnerability and because of the ‘peripheral’ existence of the area, the institutional rules of the game in some of the areas are somewhat different. As a result, the coastal fisherfolk communities sometimes have slim access and sometimes do not have access in the stream of institutional functions.
Chronic exposure to risks is a crucially important source of vulnerability. Risks are varied in nature and can range from macroeconomic shock, natural disaster, health hazard, personal insecurity, and socially compulsive expenses such as dowry. Each of these categories contains rich subset of varieties. Natural disasters involve crop damage; housing and similar damages caused by cyclone, flood, and river erosion as well as fish resources declining and rising salinity. Health hazards include both expenditures on member illness and livestock death through diseases.
Different institutional research and studies about coastal fisherfolk communities in Bangladesh revealed the findings; i. Coastal Fisherfolk is considered to a low social status, and exploitation in the fishery is unavoidable because of its cross-scale relationships and perpetual dependence on input and support. ii. Livelihood in coastal fisheries sector is complex and multi-dimensional support from wide-ranging institutions is highly required. iii. Coastal Fisherfolk is continually exposed to multiple sets of human-induced and natural vulnerabilities. iv. They have little ability to deal with cross-scale shocks and stresses and their survival as a professional group is attributed to their coping strategies and culturally embedded fatalistic attitude. v. Women play a very critical role in the artisanal fishery; nonetheless, their productive roles are often overlooked and undervalued by the wider society. vi. Coastal Fisherfolk possesses invaluable ecological and technological knowledge that fisheries sectors may use for planning and management. vii. Coastal Fisherfolk ritual play possesses critical roles in making the fisherfolk psychologically prepared for a risky profession and endowing them with mental harmony to their family members. viii. Legitimization  of the territorial use right in fishery for professional fisherfolk will help to reduce fishing pressure by commons and thus simultaneously help in the sustainable use of the resources.

The writer is a  contributor to
The Independent



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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