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Here’s How Bengal’s Aquaculture Boost Is Damaging Marine Ecosystem

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Researchers claim demand for fishmeal, is visibly accelerating the decline of fish stocks in India, and fuelling overfishing.

Fishing for Catastrophe, a report published by Changing Markets Foundation in October last year, revealed that every year, billions of sea fishes are dried, pressed and ground into oil and fishmeal. The majority of this material is then fed to other farmed fish or aquaculture industry. Based on findings in India, Vietnam and Gambia, the report presented damning evidence that the production of fishmeal and oil for use in the global aquaculture industry is destroying natural fish stocks, marine ecosystems and traditional livelihoods as well as undermining the food security of vulnerable communities. In 2016, 69% of fishmeal and 75% of fish oil were used for seafood farming globally.

Demand for fish is growing more rapidly than the human population. Aquaculture currently accounts for roughly half of world fish consumption and is projected to grow even further. Researchers claim that farmed fishes are expected to contribute to an increasing share of global fish consumption, reaching about 60% of the total in 2030. FAO is estimating that 33% of stocks are fished at biologically unsustainable levels.

India is one of the world’s leading aquaculture producers and holds a dominant role in global fisheries, owing to its approximately 7,517 km of coastline. India exports 1.05 million tonnes of marine fish every year. It is also the world’s second-biggest exporter of prawns.

Workers drying fries at landing site in Sagar island before sending to Fishmeal factories.

According to the government data, West Bengal has 405,000 hectares of brackish water that making it the largest area in the country for potential shrimp production. Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) statistics says that the production of shrimp in West Bengal reached 76,534 tonnes in 2017-18, up from 28,000 tonnes in 2007-08. As aquaculture production is increasing in the state, the demand for fishmeal is also rising. As a result, trawlers are engaging more into bottom trawling, and even smaller fishers are also forced to catch small aquatic creatures to feed local fishmeal factories.

Soula Fish Harbour in East Medinipur; Trawlers returned from deep sea with huge amount of trash fish.

Sanatan Bhuiya, a local fisher of Haripur in East Medinipur, claimed, “trash becomes cash for us”. Earlier, the local fishers didn’t get any buyer for these trash fishes, but now, agents buy trash fishes from fish landing centre itself. “They take everything and send it to local fishmeal factory at Juneput, and we get twenty rupees per kilogram,” Bhuiya added.

Trash fishes arrive at Sagar island in South 24 Pargana district. There are around 30,000 marine fishers in South 24 parganas who are struggling to survive.

There are six fishmeal factories in East Medinipur district. However, there are many fishmeal units developed in North and South 24 Parganas in past decades. In West Bengal, significant quantities of food rather than trash fish are being diverted to the fishmeal factories.

Workers sort trash fishes at landing site in Sagar island, South 24 Parganas.
Trash fish includes small molluscs, crustaceans and echinoids. Due to unsustainable trawling in Northern Bay of Bengal large number of rare bottom dwelling aquatic creatures caught into nets.

Debasish Shyamal, president of Dakhhin Banga Matsajibi Forum, claimed, “some small fishers took this as an alternative to compensate their earning, but damages are done by trawlers. They have put their (small fishers) livelihoods at risk.” He further elaborated, “Government is always pushing to increase production numbers without thinking the environmental consequences. Moreover, Union Minister for Finance Nirmala Sitharaman in her Budget speech said the government aims to raise fish production to 200 lakh tonnes by 2022-23, while there is nothing left in the sea, many species vanished, and illegal trawling overexploited the natural fish stock.”

The Marine Fishing Regulation Act has limited the size of mesh used in trawling nets to 35 mm but ignorance about the small mesh sizes of fishing nets used by both traditional fishermen and trawlers, which destroyed the fries in huge numbers regularly.
Workers drying trash fishes at Dahasunamoi fish harbour in East Medinipur before selling to Fishmeal factories.

About the author: Tanmoy Bhaduri is Kolkata-based independent photojournalist who focuses on social, cultural and environmental issues. This story was produced with the support of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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