Otter Fishing In Bangladesh

Otter Fishing In Bangladesh


Otter fishing is being practiced in Bangladesh for the last tow century.  The traditional practice of otter fishing has a significant role in otter preservation in Bangladesh. There are three species of the otters Lutra lutra, Lutrogale perspicillata and Lutra Perspicillata found in Bangladesh but the fishermen at present are using only one species called Lutra Perspicillata in and around Sundarbans. 

Norail and Khulna are the only districts in Bangladesh where this species of the otter is bred in captivity later tamed and used for fishing by the fishermen for their livelihood. The fishermen completely depend on these tamed otters for their daily earning. In the winter and early summer, the fishermen use their otters inside the Sundarbans.

They only catch fish outside the Sundarbans during the monsoon. For this unique fishing technic, you need three people, a narrow longboat, a net, two adult otters and a young trainee otter. They do the fishing generally in the nighttime mostly between 9 pm to 5 am. Every night their average catch is 8 to 12 kilo of fishes.

According to the record of 2011, there are 46 fishermen groups in the mentioned tow districts are belonging 176 otters of different ages and sex classes in captivity. 138 otters are directly involved with the fishing. The remaining are infants, juveniles or too old to get involved with fishing. There are about 300 people directly engaged with catching fish with otters and another 2000 people are involved with this industry indirectly for their livelihood.  


Historical background of otter fishing

Otters are Getting Ready to Jump into the water
Otters are Getting Ready to Jump into the water - Photo Credit: cbsnews 

Otter fishing has very old historic bac ground. It was on the Yangtze River in China during Tang Dynasty (618-907), in the Yangtze region this technic of fishing, otter fishing, was observed by Marco Polo in the 13th century as per the earliest record of the otter fishing. Chinees fishermen learned this practice of otter fishing from Southeast Asia, in the old days in the Indus and Ganges river basins people used to catch fish using the domesticated otters. Otter fishing was also subsistence in the Bengal and South India across the Coromandel Coast. 

According to European history, otter fishing was practiced at the beginning of the 16th century in Europe. Scandinavians used to train the otters to catch the trout (a species of salmon fish). The Archbishop of Uppsala, Olaus Magnus who published a volume named De Gentibus Septentroionalibus, in 1555, On Northern Peoples, where there was a drawing of a fishing otter. In the 1539 map of Scandinavia, it was one of the motifs of Olaus that describes, Carta Marina which was an otter that catches the fish for his master and the master was ready with a knife and there was a cooking vessel on the fire.   

In England, Scotland, Germany and Poland otter fishing was like a sport. Otter fishing was mentioned, in 1840, the British peninsula. Izaak Walton, an English writer mentioned in the book on angling (catching fish by hook, rod, and sting) mentioned the method of training the otters to catch fish. The then time, Europe and America used the otters in their sport. During the beginning of the Raj era in the subcontinent, the British sportsmen brought this practice in Europe from the Indian subcontinent. 

We also see the practice of otter fishing also was used in the region of Central and South America that mentioned in Brazilian Maxacali creation history. Fishermen in Guyana applied a different technic that fishermen used to observed where the fishes are deposited by the otters then they stole the fishes from there. 


How does it work?

Diagram of Technic
 A schematic representation of fishing with otter by the fisherman  - Photo Credit: Mohammed Mostafa Feeroz (Detailed View pls Click)

The domesticated trained otters generally do not catch fish by themselves rather they hunt the fish to the special kind of net placed in the water by the fishermen before they left their trained otters in the water. The otters start chasing the fish from different directions to the direction of the net placed. By this time all the fish to save their lives from these otters, take shelter into the nets. When the otters come closer to the net the fishermen pull the net into the boat along with the fish. 

Otter fishing technique in Bangladesh
Otter fishing technique in Bangladesh:: Photo Credit Mr. Clement Ong


There is a different method of using otters to catch fish in the different regions of the world but in the subcontinent, we catch the fish in this way. In history, we also learn that the otters directly catch the fish and before eating the fish the otters the fishermen took them the way. 


Fishermen community and their future

One pair of otters in operation
Otters are in operation - Photo Credit: cbsnews 

The people who are involved with this unique technique of fishing with water they are called melo jele. The fishermen of Khulna and Norail District, they catch the fish in the Citra river in the monsoon or around the area of their house. During the wintertime, they go to the Sundarbans for catching fish. They don't have land for cultivation or irrigation and that's why they have only one professional and this is the only source of their income. Most of the fishermen are illiterate and the new generation they are going to school and don’t want to continue this profession as a result, the number of these fishermen is getting reduced day after day.


Food for the otters

Otters are having lunch - Photo Credit: cbsnews 

The food supply for the otter depends on the availability of the food. Generally, they give the one kolo of fish for each adult otter during the season but when the fishermen don’t go for catching fish and they provide 500 to 600 grams of food every day. They give the food to the otter generally the fish they catch. Sometimes they give them frogs, venomless snakes, small turtles, crabs, etc, etc. 


How to train the otters?

Otters are being trained
Otters are being trained - Photo Credit: cbsnews 

Generally, the fishermen get the otters from the wild or from the other fishermen who have otter pollution. After getting the otters they bred the otters in captivity. They train the otter generally the juvenile otters. During the catching fish, the fishermen take one juvenile otter with the other two trained adult otter. During the daytime, the fishermen throw one fish in the water and say loudly Dhor – Dhor – Dhor in Bangla (Catch-Catch-Catch in English). Then the juvenile otter chases the fish and brings back to the fishermen. This how during the live activity the juvenile learns this and gets trained in 5 to 6 months. After getting birth an otter is fully prepared for catching fish in 2 years. 

Guest enjoying otter fishing tour technique.

Guest enjoying otter fishing tour technique:: Photo Credit: Mr. Ontu, Barishal


Check out our Bangladesh otter Fishing Tour to be the witness of the disappearing technic of fishing from the world. 



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