Bangladesh recovered 29 near extinct fish species

Abu Sufian

Bangladesh has recovered the deltaic region’s 29 near extinct fish species in the past 14 years and preserved them in the newly established Live Gene Bank to reproduce them along with other critically endangered fresh water fish varieties, officials said here today.

“Twenty nine nearly extinct fish species have been recovered in the past 14 years . . . some of them were previously believed to be extinct species,” Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute (BFRI) director general Dr Mohammad Julfiqur Ali told BSS.

He said a BFRI campaign was underway to preserve “critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable and near threatened” fresh water fish species in its Live Gene Bank, established in 2020 with an aim for their reproduction in commercial hatcheries.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in its latest 2015 report said they found 64 or 25.3 percent of Bangladesh’s total fish species “threatened”.

According to the IUCN report out of the 64, nine species were “critical endangered”, 30 were “endangered” and five were “vulnerable”. Its previous 2000 assessment said 54 fish species were threatened and of them 12 were “critically endangered”, 28 “endangered” and 14 “vulnerable”.

The IUCN assesses the total fish species in Bangladesh to be as high as 266 of which 140 are small fishes and the rest 126 are big in sizes.

According to experts, cultivation fisheries which are cultured commercially in hatcheries or close ponds increased rapidly but natural fish production and fish species on open waters declined comparatively in the past several decades.

“Until 1970s there was an abundance of fish in the natural waters of the country to well satisfy the demand. However, capture fish production (in open waters) declined more than 50 percent, with a negative trend of 1.24 percent per year,” IUCN’s 2015 report said.

As a result, it said, several fish species were on the verge of extinction while many others were facing extinction in near future.

The BFRI chief Ali said certain fish varieties extinct over the years due to the drying up of their natural habitat amid changing weather patterns and other environmental perturbations.

But the state-run research organisation’s Principal Scientific Officer (PSO) Dr Anuradha Bhadra said out of IUCN-listed 64 “threatened” species “we have been able to protect the germplasm of 40 species”.

She said the BFRI strengthened its research to protect the local fish breed and to make availability of the fish species for the people through transferring its breeding technology to the farmers end.

She, however, regretted as well that some fish species were now on the verge of extinction due to degradation of the natural resources over the years.

“(But) the live gene bank will play a vital role in protecting the local fishes which once was a lavish gift of the nature and also a major dietary source,” Bhadra said.

The live gene bank which is first in kind in the country has been established at BFRI head office in Mymensingh having a sub-station in Nilphamari with a goal to expedite the fish production at the natural sources.

BFRI scientists said they preserved genes of 162 endangered fish species in the two gene banks — 102 small and indigenous fisheries.

“If any species is lost from nature, the bank will breed these in hatcheries and release them in open water bodies for natural regeneration,” said Dr Mohammad Mashiur Rahman, senior scientific officer of BFRI.

Professor Dr Rafiqul Islam Sarder of Bangladesh Agricultural University’s Fisheries Biology and Genetics Department, however, advised people not to expect the same taste of open water fishes reproduced in closed water through artificial breeding with the help of gene bank.

“But the gene bank is needed when any animal or plant face threats of extinction,” he said.

Officials said fish provides 60 percent of the country’s annual protein intake while around 30 to 35 percent of the annual demand for fish is met by freshwater breeds.

Bangladesh produced around 67,000 tonnes of small fishes in 2009 while it was 261,000 tonnes in 2021, thanks to the expansion of aquaculture.

Fishes provide high quality protein and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and D, phosphorus, magnesium, selenium and iodine while they are also a valuable source of essential fatty acids, and its protein is easily digestible.

According to official statistics over the last three decades, Bangladesh’s fish production has increased six-fold. In 1983-84 fiscal, the country produced only 7.54 lakh tonnes of fish, whereas the figure exceeded 46.21 lakh tones in 2020-21.

In 2020-21, Bangladesh was ranked third globally in terms of fisheries resources, harvesting around 20 million tonnes of fish and contributing 3.57 percent to the country’s GDP.

Bangladesh has been exporting fish and fish-related products to over 50 countries worldwide, earning a total of US$533 million in 2021-22, which is more than 1 percent of the country’s total export earnings.

Roughly two crore people are directly or indirectly involved with aquaculture in the country, which consumes about 42 lakh tonnes of fish each year.

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