Otter Fishing Tradition Faces Extinction in Bangladesh

It's a conversation I'd love to see happen: A discussion of fishing techniques between a Florida bass angler and net fisherman from Narail, Bangladesh.

The Floridian boasts of using the latest soft lure, in response the fisher from Narail describes how he directs his trained otters to drive fish into his net.

Yep. The fisherman from Narail utilizes trained otters to drive fish from the shallows and underwater vegetation into his net.

Unfortunately, the above comparison of fishing techniques will never come to fruition. And not just because I can't afford to go to Bangladesh. It won't happen because the centuries-old Narail method is almost a thing of the past, due in part to depleting fish stock, human encroachment, and pollution.

Vipul Biswas, whose family has fished in this manner for generations, explained how the otters drive fish into his family's nets to Gulf Times. "The otters manage to spot fish among the plants, then the fish swim away and we stay close with our nets. If we did it without them, we wouldn't be able to catch as many fish."

Fishing is done at night and Vipul and family average between 8 and 26 pounds of fish, crabs, and shrimp per excursion. This generates around $250 a month for the family. Both the weight of the catch and the money earned from it however have been diminishing for quite some time.

Vipul says, "The kinds of fish we used to find with our father, we don't see here anymore."

In an article by Charlotte Turner for Gulf Times, zoology professor at Dhaka's Jahangirnagar University Mostafa Feeroz explained that, "the fish simply cannot breed" and that "Over-sedimentation, water pollution from oil and the use of pesticides in (rice) paddy fields, as well as over catching are all having an impact." Feeroz said the decline in fish population has declined about 90% in the past 50 years.

Vipul said this, combined with opportunities outside of fishing, are bringing fishing with otters to an end. "If there are no fish, then there's no point in having the otter fishing system," he says. "Just look at my family's situation. My brothers and sisters, they all want to study. They don't want to get into the river and catch fish. If they study then they will obviously move out of the village to find better jobs or they will buy fish from the wholesale and sell them."

It's a shame to be sure when any traditional family hunting or fishing operation comes to an end.