An important characteristic of coastal fisheries is the existence of a diverse range of ecosystems– beaches, lagoons, estuaries– along the coast, which gave rise to a wide variety of adaptations in terms of fishing and post-harvest practices, allowing opportunities for a number of people to have sustained access to livelihoods. In coastal rural areas agriculture laborers comprise the largest livelihood group in terms of number and at least one in every three rural households live on agriculture. In coastal urban areas, the majority of people serves as laborers in both formal and informal sectors or is engaged in a wide range of self-employment activities.
Fishing is a seasonal activity and the catching periods also vary according to the type of fishing and weather conditions. For example, hilsa catching is the longest (5-6 months) and shrimp PL catching is the shortest (2-3 months). Off-shore fisheries stop their fishing activities for 4-5 months during June-October due rough sea conditions.
Coastal/marine fisheries are a multi-gear and multi-species complex fishery. Any single type of gear in any fishing area catches a number of species of various sizes and ages. Over all fishery sector enjoys the open access. Anybody can access the resources following the rules and regulation. Often anybody can go and fish without the proper boat registration and consequent fishing licenses. The common property/open access nature of the coastal resources acts as an attractant for the poor people in the interior areas to move to the coast in search of employment and the fisheries sector is often the most readily available source of work for them, but this also means that they remain largely invisible from a development perspective. Inaccessibility of coastal villages reduces the people's access to basic services such as healthcare, education, subsidised food grains, and increases their vulnerability to natural disasters such as cyclones. This is further aggravated by the fact that several people in marine fishing are poorly integrated into the mainstream on account of the low status of fishing as an occupation and also, as discussed, because of their geographical origins, which set them apart culturally, linguistically, socially and as a consequence of all the above– economically.
In open or non-enclosed waters where 'enforcement' by customary owners is more difficult, coastal dwellers have seen their traditional user rights progressively eroded in the face of Commercial/industrial fisheries development, coupled with governments' fishery management policies that, overtly or tacitly, give recognition to the principles of open access and the right of 'outsiders' to fish in areas that were previously the domain of local residents. There are some areas within the BoB where the traditional rights of coastal resource users remain in place, or are being re-established through community-based management arrangements. However in many more areas traditional use rights have been replaced by essentially open access fisheries where local dwellers have no more rights than those from elsewhere. This has led to many examples of user conflict, especially where commercial/industrial fishermen from afar come to exploit the same resources that local artisanal fishermen traditionally used.At present 186 trawlers are operating with about 12-15 persons/vessel, about 21,016 mechanized boats are operating with 8-10 persons/boat, about 22,120 non-mechanized boats are operating with 3-4 persons/boat, about 43,136 traditional fishing boats with 1-2 persons. This reflects that about 510,000 people are fully and directly dependent on the coastal and marine fisheries and its allied activities. The greatest concentrations of these were in Cox's Bazar area (356,601 fishers) and Bhola area (188,018 fishers). Traditionally this sector was dominated by low caste Hindu fishers (viz. koybarta, jalodas, das, rajbangshi, sutrodhar, malo, barman, majhi, etc.). But in recent times more and more landless and unemployed Muslims' have taken up fishing as an occupation. Males are the principal work force in this sector, be it fishing, gear and craft mending or transporting, icing, selling, etc. Females are engaged in sorting, de-heading shrimps and in the processing plants.
The traditional agrarian economy of the country– largely subsistence oriented– did not receive adequate policy attention at the national level. This resulted in poor investments in crucial sectors like infrastructure and social support, and the coastal area lags behind the national averages with respect to key indicators of economic growth (infrastructure, transport and communication facilities, and industrialisation). In terms of social infrastructure (housing, drinking water, electricity, toilets, primary schools, medical facility and taps), coastal area is at the bottom of the list.