|A Livelihood Analysis of Shrimp Fry Collectors in Bangladesh:
Future Prospects in Relation to a Wild Fry Collection Ban
Timothy R. Frankenberger
TANGO International Inc.
Department for International Development
The main objective of this report is to understand the livelihoods of fry collectors in the different geographical areas where shrimp fry are caught and to explore the alternative livelihood options to fry collection. These options have to be grounded in the different institutional, social, economic and environmental contexts that fry collectors live.
The Bangladesh shrimp sector and the role that the poor fry collectors play in it must be understood within the broader regional and global context of which it is apart. As the shrimp sector has grown and become dependent on global markets, it is increasingly vulnerable to outside criticism of its environmental, social and economic practices. Any concerns with sustainable livelihoods of the poor fry collectors at the local level must relate this to sustainable trade at the global level.
As shrimp cultivation has expanded throughout the coastal belt of Southern Bangladesh, the livelihood options of the poor have become narrower and more limited. Many of the poor who lost work as agricultural labourers or sharecroppers, or lost access to Khas land took up fry collection. The poor were not able to take up new opportunities in trading, exporting or processing shrimp due to limited access to capital. Unable to take advantage of these new income-earning activities, a growing income and asset gap has developed between the local elites and the poor. Should a fry collection ban be enforced, much of the income gains for the poor that accompanied shrimp production would be lost.
The majority of the poorest fry collectors that engage in this activity as their main source of livelihood are not food secure for a great part of the year. They have poor access to housing and limited or no access to health care. They tend to be illiterate and their children drop out of school out of economic necessity. Their diets are of limited diversity, often lacking in important nutrients. They also have poor access to drinking water, and sanitation facilities. They are in a cycle of debt with local traders called Dadandars. They are extremely vulnerable to climatic and economic changes.
In the Khulna Region, poor women and children suffer the most socially and economically as a result of the expansion of shrimp culture. Their health has suffered from the transformation of the landscape and declining incomes. They spend more time in search of fuel and water and their workload has doubled. They are underpaid for the work that they do and are cheated in the sale of their fries. Standing in cold salty water using push/pull nets for 6-10 hours a day can expose women and children to Malaria, Dengue, and Diarrhoea. Women also are exposed to urinary and vaginal infections. There are few health facilities available to women, especially in the Sundarbans where they are forced to migrate in search of fry.
The status of women in the Cittigong/Coxes Bazaar region is much lower in comparison to other parts of the country. Traditional cultural practices have limited the opportunities of women in education, skill development, employment, and participation in community decisions. Due to the lack of income sources and inability to go to the market, women are dominated by their husbands and other male members of society. Most women are not allowed to vote, and are unaware of their rights. Because of these restrictions on mobility, women are primarily involved in household work. Women are rarely involved in fry collection. The only women that may be involved are widows or abandoned women.
Women are rarely allowed to go out alone.
The primary reason given for why wild fry should be banned or regulated is that biodiversity is being negatively impacted by the capture of fry and the destruction of by-catch. However fry collection must be seen as one of many reasons why shrimp fry yields have gone down. Other reasons include:1) the destruction of the Sundarbans for wood harvesting and to make way for additional shrimp farms (the Sundarbans acts as a natural nursery to shrimp and a number of other fish species); 2) the negative impacts of reliance on wild broodstock fishing for the supply of spawn to the hatcheries; 3) the destruction of the shrimp breeding grounds due to unregulated trawling; and 4) the pollution caused by the breaking up of ships in the Bay of Bengal.
In most of the Southwestern and the Southeastern parts of Bangladesh, the wild fry ban was never enforced. There are a number of reasons for this. First, very few people in the remote areas were aware of the ban and thus did not know they were supposed to stop fry collection activities.
Second, the demand for wild fry continued unabated. Farmers still have a preference for wild fry because of their better survival rates despite the availability of hatchery fry at lower costs. In addition, a number of traders are highly dependent on wild fry marketing and have no intention of stopping. The amount of resistance generated by these traders to the ban was well demonstrated by the activities of the traders associations in Coxes Bazaar.
Third, the Government of Bangladesh has inadequate resources to enforce the ban, and many agencies see the ban as an opportunity to collect rent. For example, the Forest Department officials operating in the Sundarbans used the ban as an opportunity to collect illegal rent from fry collectors fishing in the area.