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Dry Fish Culture of Bengal

Photographer: Piyal Adhikary

 

Fishing and fish drying has been a traditional source of livelihood in different parts of the Sundarbans delta for generations. Sundarban Islands in the Bay of Bengal is the largest delta in the world, which includes a unique mangrove ecosystem of approx. 10,000 square kilometers that spreads out over the borders of India and Bangladesh. The Sundarbans has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.

 

Jambudwip Island in the Sundarbans in the Indian State of West Bengal has been one of the bases for fishery operations and fish-drying activity, mostly by small business fishermen and fish workers of a transient fishing community, since the 1980s.

 

The island has since then become an issue of dispute between the West Bengal State government and the fishing community. The West Bengal Forest Department, on the orders of a Supreme Court decision from 1996, has banned fishing and fish drying activity in and around Jambudwip and other islands on the grounds that the gas generated by the drying of fish is allegedly harmful to the mangrove forests on Jambudwip but also for security concerns from e.g. smugglers.

 

The seasonal fishing and fish drying activity taking place between October and February is manual labor involving large parts of the fishermen community. The ban has caused a major shift in the poor fishing community of an estimated 25,000 people as many face job loss, while others already had to find employment as daily laborers or migrate to other islands such as Kakdwip, where they live in rootless and precarious conditions.