Bangladesh Considers Reopening River Naf to Fishing

By Muktadir Rashid   5 April 2019

DHAKA—Despite concerns that it could trigger a surge in drug smuggling, the Bangladesh government is considering allowing the resumption of fishing on the River Naf in Cox’s Bazar. Fishing has been suspended since an influx into the country of Rohingya fleeing a military crackdown in Myanmar that began in August 2017.

Cox’s Bazar deputy commissioner Kamal Hossain informed the Bangladesh Home Ministry that the situation regarding fishing on the River Naf was under review and that a decision would be made soon.

The district deputy commissioner will ultimately make the decision on behalf of the government in consultation with the Home Ministry.

“[Fishing] has been suspended since the August 2017 incident…now we are in discussions to resume it,” the deputy commissioner said on Thursday afternoon.

A meeting was held at the Border Guards Bangladesh headquarters in Dhaka on Thursday in the presence of Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan but no decision was made, the official said.

Ali Johor, the leader of a group of fishermen in Shah Parir Dwip in Teknaf sub-district of Cox’s Bazar, told The Irrawaddy that the fishermen and their families who are dependent on the river had suffered extreme hardship in the 20 months since the ban was imposed.

“Many of us now are working in the salt fields for our livelihoods,” said Johor. He suggested the government allow fishing at particular times during daylight hours along with BGB checks of the fishing catch.

He claimed none of his fellow fishermen from the Jelepara or Campara areas of Shah Parir Dwip were found to be involved in drug smuggling, but they were suffering the most from the suspension.

Fazlul Haque, an elected representative of the Sabrang union council in Teknaf, told The Irrawaddy that over 600 families who were directly dependent on the river were facing hardship. One of them committed suicide last week due to having been impoverished by the ban, he said.

He said suspension of fishing was basically meant to stop drug smuggling from another bank of the river in Myanmar.

“But,” he said, “if [the fishermen] do not have an alternative option for their livelihood, they could get involved with criminal activities just for their survival. Otherwise, they will need rehabilitation; as you know there are hardly any job opportunities in the border area.”

The BGB commander in Teknaf, Lieutenant Colonel Mustafizur Rahman, predicted that as soon as fishing resumed, there would be a surge of yaba smuggling into Bangladesh.

He also said it would be difficult for them to monitor thousands of fishing boats.

“In the past, the fishermen were given particular times, but they did not follow it,” Mustafizur said.

Despite the suspension of fishing, yaba—small tablets containing a mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine—continue to be smuggled across the Bangladeshi border from Myanmar and more recently from India.

On Friday, the BGB team seized 150,000 yaba tablets from a canal in Tamru of Ukhia sub-district in Cox’s Bazar.

The Bangladesh government has started registration of the fishing boats so that it can monitor any criminal activities or more easily rescue any fishing boat or trawler that is in danger.

Regarding the registration of fishing boats, the Home Ministry was informed that 67,669 motorized and non-motorized boats were in action along the coastal belt as of April 3.

According to the Shipping Ministry, more than half of the fishing boats and trawlers were registered by 2018.