Wildlife & Biodiversity

Seed prawn collection depletes fish schools in Sundarbans

Locals admit they catch seed prawns in large numbers and throw away bycatch

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Thursday 10 October 2019
A beach on Sagar Island. Photo: Getty Images

Rampant collection of seed prawns by locals on Sagar island in West Bengal’s Sundarbans delta has affected the fish population, a legislator  admitted.

Around 2,000-3,000 people, mostly women and children, eke out a living by catching baby prawns on the island. Sundarbans, the world's largest stretch of mangrove, is ecologically fragile. It has been designated a World Heritage site by Unesco.

“Rampant catching of seed prawns and the killing of millions of fish hatchlings in the process is among the main reasons behind the non-availability of some species of fish in the sea around Sagar,” Bankim Chandra Hazra, who represents the island in the West Bengal Assembly, told reporters at a workshop on climate change in the Bay of Bengal region.

Residents of the island in the South 24 Parganas district admitted they catch seed prawns using fishing nets and throw away the bycatch.

“I earn around Rs 150-Rs 200 collecting baby prawns. I kill other species in the process, but the money is important for me,” 57-year-old Rinarani Mandal of Beguakhali, said. 

Sarita Mandal, 43, from Ghoramara village on the island, said she ventures into creeks and the sea for collecting seed prawns everyday.

“Like me, many woman are engaged in seed prawn collection because it is an easy source of employment which needs simple technology,” she added.

The scope for an income drives them despite alleged exploitation by middlemen.

“Women catchers generally sell 100 small prawns to middlemen at only Rs 50. But middlemen, in turn, sell the catch to prawn farm owners at Rs 75-Rs 100,” Parameswar Mandal, 45, a fisherman of Beguakhali, alleged.

People agreed that catching prawns has depleted the local fish population.

“The sea around Sagar island used to generate huge quantities of fish a few years ago. But since the last two decades, we are not getting sufficient fish. As a result, the fate of large numbers of fishermen who depend on the sea is now at stake,” Mahendra Das, 45, a marine fisherman of Beguakhali, said.

Hazra, who is the chairperson of Gangasagar Bakkhali Development Authority (GBDA), said, he and his team had been organising many meetings with the district administration and fisheries department to check the catching of seed prawns in the sea and other water bodies in the Sundarbans.

“The fisheries department has also been organising awareness meetings among the villagers to urge them to not catch baby prawns. We are planning to enact a law that will make the catching of baby prawns an offence,” added Hazra.

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