The century-old dried fish industry of the country has had a reversal of fortunes – it has turned into an import-dependent sector from an export-oriented one.
Now 70% of the dried fish market is dependent on imports, according to industry insiders, who said demand for and price of dried fish are increasing simultaneously every year in the country, but its production is falling day by day.
Traders at the country's largest dried fish markets at Asadganj and Chaktai of Chattogram said the dried fish industry is largely dependent on marine fish, but its production is declining year by year due to various reasons, including natural disaster and climate change.
Moreover, fishermen have been changing their profession due to the increasing costs of processing dried fish. Pirate attacks on the sea have been another factor.
As a result, the price of dried fish is increasing every year as its production has not increased in proportion to growing demand.
Osman Haider Rana, general secretary of Asadganj dried Fish Traders Association, said there are 40 dried fish warehouses and 268 wholesale shops in Asadganj wholesale market. The average daily sales of warehouses and shops together is more than 150 tonnes, which is worth Tk55 crore.
Dried fishes come to the wholesale market from different coastal areas of the country.
According to the traders' association, at present annual demand for dried fish is 55,500 tonnes in the country. Around 20,000 tonnes are supplied locally while the remaining 35,500 tonnes, which is 70% of the total demand, are imported from Myanmar, India and Pakistan.
Asadganj Shutki Aratdar Samity Convener Idris Alam said, "The quality of the dried fish produced in the country is comparatively better than the imported one. Dried fish of Chattogram has a good demand in England and different Middle Eastern countries. At present, 20% of the locally produced dried fish is exported to these countries."
Meanwhile, the price of dried fish is increasing by 20% every year because of short supply. As such, the price of dried fish is doubling every five years.
Rupchanda is the most expensive dried fish in the market. At present, per kg of Rupachanda is being sold at Tk2,900-Tk4,000 depending on quality. Five years ago, it used to be sold at Tk1,800-Tk2,000. Similarly, shrimp dried fish is now being sold at Tk1,600-Tk1,700. The price was Tk700-Tk800 five years ago.
According to the traders, one of the main reasons behind the increase in dried fish prices is attacks by pirates at sea. Fishermen from different parts of the country no longer want to go out to the sea to catch fish due to increasing attacks by pirates day after day. They are moving away from this profession to others.
Milton Barua, a wholesale dried fish trader from Asadganj, said the supply of dried fish in the market is declining every year. In the last season, its supply was much higher in Asadganj dried fish market. "At the time, I did not have sufficient space to store dried fish in my shop. But this year, the supply is not that much," he added.
Traders claim that with the help of modern technology and loan assistance from the government, the dried fish industry will be able to turn around. Exports of dried fish will then increase after local demand is met.