Thus the cage farming has created a lot of jobs in various levels of process that links producers with consumers. Cage culture and other associated activities have developed several indirect employment opportunities. Women’s participation is limited as the activity requires working in the large volume and deep water (river) and far away from their homes. However, few women are involved in groups, especially fisher families who reside near the river. In such cases, illiterate fisher women have got donation or loan from NGOs. Even then female members often are assisted by their husbands.
More interestingly, illegal fishing and netting has drastically reduced due to the presence of cages in these two districts as they cover almost all the areas along the river side (total coverage is 84,000 square meters of river surface). Therefore, it has helped conserve the natural stock and their breeding. During feeding period small indigenous fishes from outside the cage enter and share some percentage of the same feed. Thus cages culture has ensured food for natural stock and preserved serving as fish sanctuary. Increased population of small fish species around the cages are observed clearly.
Although the cage culture technology has been introduced in Bangladesh with new approaches and new dimension, it has not been easy and without obstacles. Dense population, illiteracy, economic insolvency, rivalry and jealousy to each other, non-cooperation from many sects, social conflicts and few others are affecting its expansion. The major problems encountered are as follows:
Conflicts of Interest - Initially the river Dakatia was selected for setting up cages, due to its’ non-turbulent environment, security, easy transport of cage materials, seeds, feeds and giving suitability of marketing the fishes to surrounding numerous urban and village fish-markets. Until 2005, since the technology was not well-known to the people, it was thought that the whole Dakatia could be used for cage culture except the areas where industries and poultry farms release the effluents. However, when more and more people came to learn from one another, conflicts of interests started in the use of river. Some people marked their places with red-flags until they installed the cages; turning some cases into cruel conflicts. Concerned authorities and sects had to compromise with the riverside dwellers to solve the crisis.
Cages Damaged by Ships - The same rivers are used for inter district navigation. A good number of steamers run from Dhaka to Chandpur daily. All these steamers crossing the main stream of Meghna reach Chandpur. On their arrival they settle down in the secure inner ghats which are about 5-7 km inside from the Dakatia, where numerous cages have been installed on both the sides. The steamers especially in the foggy winter night sometimes run over the cages unknowingly. Thus another type of conflicts aroused between cage-owners and steamer-drivers. The strong association of steamer owners did not pay attention to the crying of cage operators. As a measure, the cage operators have installed security lights with series of bamboo poles over the cage structures. At the same time, the steamer drivers have been requested to drive their vehicles cautiously particularly around the cage culture area.
Lack of Legal Right - According to the public rule of the Bangladesh each citizen has an equal right over the river on condition that he/she doesn’t disturb others. However, nobody can set any permanent structure on the river. Sites have been selected with due consideration of these rules. Cages have been installed leaving ghats which are used by villagers for bath and collecting water for house-hold use and leaving navigation route free. Even then when the cages are great in serving people by producing rich protein, creating employment opportunities, farmers still can’t have legal right over the places in river. Considering this as a critical problem, cage farmers formally submit request to the District Collector (DC) and they have been allowed in condition that the cage structures are only temporary and would not disturb any navigation route.
Disease Problem - Since 2008, in the cages at Chandpur and Lamxipur are facing the most acute problem with disease. Like other countries in Asia, the pond tilapia aquaculture is also suffering from diseases. Last year about 30% of the cages fishes died due to disease. A particular size of fishes was affected by the diseases. Teachers and Fish disease scientists from Bangladesh Agricultural University and BFRI visited the cages during the crisis. According to them it was due to the bacterial disease caused by Streptococcus sp. However, no specific diagnosis was possible. In addition to the disease, it might have been due to the combination of factors involving water quality. Some solution is still to be explored to help the farmers.
Unlike some of the other Asian countries, cage culture in Bangladesh is still in its infancy. There are still a lot to do to reach the level that cage farming would play an important role of food security to the poor people as well as earn foreign currency by export. Based on the experience of direct involvement, the followings are recommended:
Government should formulate appropriate policies and regulations for the cage farming and provide legal right over the places charging annual fees per cage or unit area. If necessary, quota system can be established for a given area/village selected based on the suitability.
Keeping in mind that tilapia can be a good source of foreign earnings as other Asian countries, technical expertise should be developed within relevant departments so that whole production process can be monitored and certified. For example, environmental condition, seed quality, stocking density, feeds and feeding practices, post harvest handling, processing and so on.
There are about 145 shrimp export companies in Bangladesh, 63 of which are approved by EU. These have the capacity of exporting 265,000 MT fish and shrimps. But these factories are getting only 50,000 MT for export which means only 18-20% of their capacity has been used so far. They do not have anything to export especially during October to late February. As tilapia is produced throughout the year, exporting tilapia fillets would be one of the best options. Therefore, production of export quality tilapia in cages in huge volume would need concerted efforts including developing national policies and promotion. In order to create export market some sorts of certification schemes for export grade tilapia production, would be necessary e.g. good aquaculture practices (GAP) and HACAP.
Since the mono-sex tilapia hatcheries are the base of tilapia industry, they should be well-equipped with technology and quality brood stocks. Some hatcheries are dealing with the broods from authentic sources through BFRI, but majority are using broods either from unknown origin or from residual seeds of some farms which are genetically inferior. International organizations, such as AIT and GIFT Foundation, should have direct involvement for periodical refreshment of the brood stocks and monitoring and certification of seed produced local hatcheries.
Floating feeds are mostly produced in the country, partially from Thailand as well, and production of quality tilapia greatly depends on feed quality. A lot of farmers are complaining about the quality of feed produced in Bangladesh. Government should monitor the production process and the quality including the levels of nutrients as mentioned in the feed-bags.
A number of issues emerged among the cage owners which were not possible to solve on individual basis. Some issues such as, moving workers from one cage-owner to another, fish poaching, conflicts with ship-owners, lack of legal right over position on river-site, became too burning ones to stop the tread. Considering all the issues the cage owners arranged a meeting on 14th August 2010 and formed an association named “Bangladesh Cage-Owners Association” and its legal registration procedure is ongoing. They have setup an association office at Chandpur, from where they do the formal communications to relevant parties and organizations in any crisis.
In conclusion, cage culture has started a new era for aquaculture history in Bangladesh. Farmers are dreaming of big success in the venture. Cage farming needs expansion throughout the country. A good training to enthusiastic staff and practical exercise to develop and test new model of technology at the center where they are based play a critical role. Once a successful model is demonstrated, farmers and other stakeholders get interested in to apply and also support. Transfer to technology is more efficient through public-private partnership. As a result of this venture, cage culture of tilapia has been expanded in Bangladesh producing quite a large volume. However, production is consumed within the country. Bangladesh may start exporting tilapia, if production further increases and if the marketing infrastructure is developed that emphasize certification of quality, processing, and storage, and exploring the market. World is looking for quality farmed fish to feed the people. Tilapia has been considered the best candidate species. When the fish is started to export, it will further boost tilapia farming in Bangladesh. Similar to Prawn / shrimp, tilapia could play greater role towards reducing poverty through generating more income to the farmers, increasing employment and supplying animal nutrition. Every relevant and interested sect, government or non-government organization needs to join in hands to make it a success.