Bangladesh is gradually losing out in the shrimp export market to other countries as the government has not yet permitted commercial cultivation and fry production of Vannamei shrimp.
According to the Bangladesh Frozen Foods Exporters Association (BFFEA), the high-yielding Vannamei now accounts for 80% of the $32 billion international shrimp market. Its popularity has grown rapidly due to its low cost, but processing plants in Bangladesh are not getting enough shrimps as there is no commercial production.
The lack of greenlight has resulted in almost 80% of the production capacity of processing plants to remain unused.
Although the Department of Fisheries recently gave the nod to several companies for the experimental production of Vannamei under the supervision of the Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute (BFRI), entrepreneurs stressed the need to start commercial production as soon as possible to retain the country's place in the export market.
For this, the authorities should also allow Vannamei fry production in the country which needs to be exported currently, they said.
According to the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), Bangladesh exported 41,236 tonnes of shrimp worth $455 million in 2013-14 fiscal year (FY). Since then, however, shrimp exports have been falling.
Shrimp exports decreased by 34% in 2018-19 FY compared to 2013-14 FY. In 2018-19 FY, Bangladesh exported 29,543 tonnes of shrimp worth $361 million, as per the EPB.
The falling trend followed as shrimp exports declined further in 2019-20 FY to $332 million and in 2020-21 FY, it reached $329 million.
In the first six months of 2021-22 FY, the export stands at $269 million.
Kazi Belayet Hossain, president of the BFFEA, told The Business Standard, "If we cannot start commercial production of high yielding Vannamei shrimp soon, we would not be able to compete in the international market."
At least, 30 companies have closed their business in the last 10 years and 10-15 companies are on the way to do the same, as per the BFFEA.
Officials of the BFFEA said there are 76 European Union approved shrimp processing plants in the country with a capacity of four lakh tonnes. However, the annual production of shrimp in the country is a little over two-and-a-half lakh tonnes. From this, only 77,000 tonnes of shrimps are being processed.
As a result, 80.75% of the processing capacity of the companies remains unused.
Meanwhile, MU Seafood, one of the two companies permitted for experimental production of vannamei in the first phase, has completed the production by importing 10.8 lakh Vannammei fries from Thailand.
About 24% of the fries died before reaching the company's pond in Khulna's Paikgacha. Officials of the company said that so many fries would not have been wasted if they were produced locally.
Entrepreneurs have demanded that the production of Vannamei fry through hatcheries in the country be allowed for rapid expansion of its cultivation.
Md Atiar Rahman, additional director general of the Department of Fisheries, said, "We have started giving permission for Vannamei production. However, a number of companies have applied for fry production, but they need further screening to see whether they have the infrastructure and other capacities to do so.
"We will send a report after further verification to our technical committee. They will take the final decision in this regard. It will take more time," he added.
According to the Department of Fisheries, in the first phase, a company named AgroBusiness Enterprise and Sushilan, an NGO, were permitted to produce Vannamei experimentally in Cox's Bazar.
Sushilan started production jointly with MU Seafood. In the second phase, MU Seafood, Fahim Sea Food Limited and Grotec Aquaculture Limited were given the permission.
MU Seafood has cultivated 13,886 kg of Vannamei shrimp in 1.56 hectares of land in a controlled environment in just 90 days in Paikgachha, Khulna.
The production rate is 8,901 kg per hectare.
Shyamal Das, managing director of MU Seafood, said,"We have not been able to increase exports due to the raw materials crisis. For this, we need approval for commercial production of Vannamei. At the same time, we need permission to produce Vannamei fry, otherwise, we have to depend on foreign countries."
According to the BFFEA and the Department of Fisheries, Vannamei could be cultivated in 90-100 days,whereas it takes 140-160 days for Bagda shrimp.
Vannami is widely cultivated in China, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Myanmar. India is the world's largest exporter of vannamei shrimp.
Officials of shrimp processing companies say that Bangladesh produces shrimp in three lakh hectares of land. On the other hand, India produces around eight lakh tonnes of shrimp with a production rate of 9,000-15,000 kg per hectare on less land.
Vannamei cultivation needs soil test, pond excavation, electrification, generators, laboratories, biosecurity and quality feed which needs high investment. Producers are ready to take the risk to start commercial production very soon, they said.
Shyamal Das, managing director of MU Seafood, said, "We made an agreement with an Indian company for Vannamei production. The feed is also imported from India."