A pair of sailors are seen dragging a drum of fish they caught from the sea onto Kuakata Sea Beach in Patuakhali. Deep-sea fishing usually requires powerboats that can fight the waves, but rising fuel costs are now threatening the survival of the industry after two years of turmoil amid Covid-19. PHOTO: Titu Das

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A pair of sailors are seen dragging a drum of fish they caught from the sea onto Kuakata Sea Beach in Patuakhali. Deep-sea fishing usually requires powerboats that can fight the waves, but rising fuel costs are now threatening the survival of the industry after two years of turmoil amid Covid-19. PHOTO: Titu Das

Bangladesh’s marine fishing industry is barely holding its head above water as its operating costs have risen dramatically after fuel prices hiked twice in the past eight months.

The cost of fuel accounts for 70% of the total cost of operating a fishing trawler while maintenance costs, food allowance and wages make up the rest.

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Worse still, all these expenses have increased in the face of rampant inflation, which is seriously affecting the industry which is already struggling with a lack of work for about two-thirds of the year due to bad weather.

In addition, they are forced to sit on the shores for a total of 87 days each year – from May 20 to July 23 and from October 1 to October 22 – during a government-imposed deep-sea fishing ban to facilitate the reproduction.

Industry insiders say their business is now in jeopardy as fuel costs have nearly doubled in the past eight months, with diesel prices hitting Tk 114 per liter from Tk 65 per liter before November 2021.

The cost of fuel accounts for 70% of the total cost of operating a fishing trawler, while maintenance costs, food allowance and wages make up the rest.

Three types of vessels are mainly used in deep-sea fishing, namely industrial steel fishing trawlers, wooden-hulled ice trawlers, and mechanized and non-mechanized small-scale craft.

A total of 215 industrial fishing trawlers and about 49 wooden-bodied ice trawlers registered with the Department of Merchant Marine carry out fishing activities beyond 40 meters depth.

In addition to these large trawlers, about 65,000 small mechanized and non-mechanized artisanal craft are engaged in fishing in shallow water, which is normally in the 40 meter mark.

According to data from the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, the total marine finisher catch was 6.81 lakh tonnes in the financial year 2020-21, registering an annual growth of 1.51% from 671,104 tons the previous year.

A total of 234 industrial fishing trawlers and wooden-bodied ice trawlers as well as some 61,000 types of small boats were engaged in deep-sea fishing that year, according to the data.

The annual sea fishing catch accounted for about 14.74% of the country’s total fish production of 4,621,228 tonnes in the financial year 2020-21.

The Bangladesh Marine Fisheries Association (BMFA) has 80 member companies that own 215 industrial fishing trawlers, of which about 180 vessels are currently operational. These trawlers have the capacity to carry around 150 tons to 350 tons of fish.

BMFA Chairman Nurul Qayuum Khan said when the price of diesel was Tk65 per liter last year, they spent only Tk52 lakh to buy the 80,000 liters of fuel needed for a trawler of industrial fishing for a single trip lasting 22 to 25 days.

However, the cost has risen to Tk 1.05 crore per trip after the recent hike in fuel prices, he added.

In addition, other operating costs have also increased from Tk 5 lakh to Tk 10 lakh for each trip due to rising commodity prices.

Mentioning that the price of diesel has soared by Tk 47.79 per liter in eight months, Khan said such a hike has had a negative impact on owners of industrial fishing trawlers as they now have to bear more than 50 lakh Tk for each trip.

“Other transport sectors have adapted to the new fuel prices by increasing their fares, but we don’t have that option because we cannot impose an exorbitant increase in the price of fish because it is mainly consumed by people at middle and low income,” he added. said.

Moreover, Khan alleged that they are not getting fair prices from local markets because a significant amount of fish is imported from different countries in the Middle East, even though the country is self-sufficient in this regard.

The BMFA chief went on to say that although they cannot venture out to see for about four months every year amid bad weather on top of the government ban for 87 days, their trawlers remain inactive for about 200 days in total, but the owners still need to bear the repayments of bank loans and pay salaries throughout the year.

Also, the industry has been facing problems since Covid-19 made landfall in 2020 but it has not received any support from the government while other sectors have received special stimulus packages to help overcome the pandemic.

“We have been facing a very distressing situation for several months and now some 50-60% of industrial fishing trawler owners cannot send their vessels due to financial constraints,” he added.

The association recently sent a letter to Salman F Rahman, private industry and investment adviser to the Prime Minister, urging the government to supply diesel at the price it was before last November to ensure the survival of the industry.

Jane Alam, president of the Navy White Fish Trawler Owners Association, which owns around 70 wooden ice trawlers, said operating costs for a single 13-day trip had already increased by Tk 6-7 lakh due to the increase in the price of diesel. .

“Owners are also facing another pressure as their staff are demanding higher salaries given the higher cost of living,” he added.

Babul Sarkar, general secretary of the Marine Fish Catch Boat Owners Association, which represents artisanal boat owners, said most of their boats do not go to sea due to the extra cost of fuel and low catches.

Each ship with a carrying capacity of 10 to 12 tons returns with catches weighing barely 500 kilograms to 2 tons due to the strong waves at sea.

In this context, Sarkar asked the government to subsidize fuel prices to help them survive the situation.

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