Fishing in the sea is an expensive affair. Before heading into the sea, a crew of around 20 fishermen in Patuakhali must ensure at least 2,000 litres of diesel, enough ice, food and other supplies as they will be out in the water for 10-12 days.
The entire journey now costs them Tk2,28,000 in fuel alone per trip. The expenditure had been Tk70,000 less before the government raised the prices of fuel oils.
On top of it come food costs that have gone way up as well.
Hossen Mia, a fisherman from Patuakhali's Kalapara, told The Business Standard, "Fishing in the sea has become costlier than ever, but fish catches in this peak season are not enough to offset such a high cost.
"We are now counting losses."
High cost but lower amount of catch is now translating into soaring prices of Hilsa and other fishes in Dhaka kitchen markets. A Hilsa now costs consumers between Tk1,300 and Tk2,000 depending on sizes – much higher than what was last year.
Noakhali fishermen, who go out to the sea – up to 220km off Hatia near Bangladesh-India border – are not shielded from the soaring cost burden.
Saiful Islam, 45, a fisherman from Islamia Bazar in Hatia, said they usually go to the sea for at least four days and the cost per trip has now risen to around Tk2 lakh from Tk1.6 lakh following the latest fuel price hike.
"On 9 August, I went fishing in the deep sea along with 20 others. We netted fish worth Tk3 lakh. But I could not make any profit after paying wages to my crew," he also said.
The expensive diesel is not the only thing hurting them – rising costs of ice and other commodities are also biting into what they earn.
The extra cost burden also put a dent on wages of hired fishermen. Nazim Majhi, who works on a wage basis in a trawler, said, "We used to get Tk12,000-Tk14,000 for a seven-day trip to the sea. We would also get a share of the fish caught in the sea worth Tk6,000-Tk7,000."
But at present, they are getting only Tk1,500-Tk2,000 because of a lower amount of catch and a hike in fuel and ice prices, he said.
At least 1 lakh fishermen in the region now find themselves in a tight spot with rising cost of fishing in the sea. Many of them have shored their fishing boats as they cannot afford extra costs.
At least 5,000 fishermen switched to other jobs just in a week, Md Rashed, president of Hatia Trawler Owners' Association, told TBS.
Many moved to district towns to work as rickshaw-pullers and day-labourers, he said.
Ashar Uddin, a fish trader at Bangla Bazar, Hatia, said, "Currently, we are not getting enough fish in the sea. We are counting a loss on every trip."
Every boat needs ice to preserve fish. Since the diesel price hike, the ice price has increased by around Tk50-Tk60 depending on the size of the ice slabs.
Fishermen complain that they have to buy diesel from the market near Hatiar Ghat for Tk120 per litre instead of Tk114 per litre fixed by the government.
However, sellers say the cost of transporting oil from the district town to the isolated island is high, so they are forced to charge Tk5-6 more per litre.
Ahsan Ulya, ice factory owner, said 80 litres of diesel are needed to produce 100 pieces of ice.
But their sales fell in the last few days as a good number of fishermen are now not going out to sea. As a result, a portion of the ice remains unsold, which needs more fuel to avoid melting, he also said.
Md Rashed, president of Hatia Trawler Owners' Association, said, "There are 57 ghats from Chairman Ghat to Nijhum Dwip in Hatia Island. More than 1,200 boats and 3,115 trawlers head into the sea for fishing from these ghats. Each boat employs 12-14 men and each trawler employs 20-26 men."
Ashraful Islam, marine fisheries officer of Hatia Fisheries Office, said, "The fuel price hike has badly affected fishermen in Hatia. Arrangements will be made after a discussion with the upazila authorities so that the fishermen can get diesel at Tk114 per litre fixed by the government."
Fishermen in Chattogram have also been left in tatters because of high diesel cost and scanty fish catches even in the peak season.
Firoz Ahmed, owner of a fishing trawler from Banshkhali upazila's Khankhabad area, told TBS that they need 30-32 litres of diesel per day to fish in the sea and their cost per boat has risen by Tk1,020.
Ashab Uddin, a boat owner from Anwara area, said, "We have invested a huge amount of money but are not getting enough fish. We now have to spend extra Tk30,000-35,000 a month because of the fuel price hike."