Political consideration behind the decision alleged
The cabinet yesterday approved a proposal to issue 25 new licences to trawlers for fishing in the exclusive economic zone of the Bay of Bengal.
The government nod came though there is no study on the existing stock of white fish in the deep sea.
Of the new licences, 15 will be given for fishing in mid-water, up to 200 metres from the shore, and the rest for fishing beyond the 200 metres area, Cabinet Secretary M Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office.
Industry insiders said the incumbent government has already awarded 34 licences to as many fishing trawlers in the Bay. Most of them were issued on political considerations and the licences changed hands in exchange of up to Tk2 crore each.
At the meeting yesterday, the cabinet also directed the fisheries ministry to prepare a detailed fishing policy by updating and removing any inconsistency in the current one as there are allegations of irregularities in getting trawler licences and against their uses.
The new licences will be issued under the new policy, noted the secretary.
Currently, 299 trawlers are licensed to fish in the Bay of Bengal. Of them, nearly 200 are engaged in fishing. Some deep-water fishing trawler operators claimed that catches have been sliding over the years.
Seeking anonymity, a top official of a deep-water fishing trawler operator said, “Issuing more licences without conducting a survey on the fish stock is not the right thing to do.”
However, Mohammad Abdul Hye, state minister for fisheries and livestock, told The Daily Star, “We have decided to issue the licences following recommendations by an expert committee as the country has secured more area in the Bay after winning a maritime boundary dispute with Myanmar.”
Asked whether the licences will be issued again on political considerations, he said the licences would be given to those people who are experienced in fishing in the Bay and capable of operating expensive trawlers.
“First, we will publish advertisements in the newspapers. After receiving applications, we will scrutinise those before sending to the expert committee, who will make recommendations for or against awarding licences,” he added.
After the expert committee’s recommendation, the ministry will take a final look at the applications and send those to the Prime Minister’s Office for final approval, noted the minister.
This is the third time since 2002 that the fisheries ministry has planned to allow increased fishing in the Bay, putting aside the recommendations of an expert committee.
The panel, during the tenure of the previous Awami League government (1996-2001), had suggested conducting a survey of the existing marine reserve before awarding any more licences for fishing in the sea.
The BNP-led government had overlooked the recommendation first in 2002, and issued 50 licences for marine fishing, including 10 for mid-water fishing. Most of them later had changed hands several times for huge sums of money before landing with genuine fishing companies, complained industry insiders.
At the press briefing yesterday, Cabinet Secretary Musharraf said those who are not operating their trawlers as per licensing rules will be granted more time to fulfil the criteria. Licences of those failing to meet the criteria will be cancelled.
Among the seven agendas of the meeting, six were notifications of different ministries, mostly by the foreign ministry on foreign minister’s visits abroad.
The cabinet was informed about the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) meeting at the UN Human Rights Council held at Geneva from 29th April to 2nd May. A total of 196 suggestions were placed at the meeting, of which Bangladesh accepted 134. The remaining, including the suggestion on cancelling the death penalty and formal approval of homosexual relation, were discarded instantly.
“The foreign minister had discarded these proposals considering the socio-economic and religious values of the country,” mentioned Musharraf.
Source: The Daily Star