The ancient axiom ‘fish and rice make a Bengali’ has lost relevance to a large extent because the verities of our indigenous freshwater fish that used tickle the taste buds of Bengalis in every walk of life is shrinking fast. Freshwater fish species are increasingly becoming rare or extinct because of adverse impacts of climate change, water pollution, shrinking water bodies, over fishing and widespread use of pesticides in agriculture. Reportedly, roughly 25 per cent of the freshwater fish species in Bangladesh are at risk of extinction. And it is for sure that some species have already gone extinct.
However, at the same time, there is no denying that fish production has increased to a great extent in Bangladesh. It has now become a lucrative export item. The fisheries sector has grown from strength to strength. According to a report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Bangladesh has been consistently among the top five fish producing countries of the world for over a decade now. FAO predicts that Bangladesh is going to earn billions of dollars from this sector in future.But since that a majority of fish available in the market are farm-cultivated fish, they do not taste as good as natural sweet water fish. These days it is hard to find certain types of our local fish. In this backdrop, it is heartening that Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute is developing a live gene bank for endangered local fish species. Reportedly, the institute has a plan to preserve as many as 260 spices of local fish. But only preserving endangered fish species in the lab will not be enough. Simultaneously, steps should be taken to encourage cultivation of those fish species.
Bangladesh is a riverine country and is blessed with hundreds of rivers, ponds, canals and water bodies. But only if we can increase the navigability of the rivers, water bodies, and save them from pollution and illegal occupation, our favourite natural fish will grow in abundance once again. We must do the needful to reclaim the water bodies.