Atrai dried fish industry plunges as rivers dry up

Making dried fish requires a lot of labour under the sun, say traders

Dried fish traders and fishermen in Naogaon’s Atrai upazila are in a state of despair as they are unlikely to achieve the yearly target of producing around 600 tons of dried fish during the peak season between June and December.

Atrai has gradually been losing its reputation as a hub for small indigenous fishes in the northern region. As a result, traditional dried fish businesses will soon have to cease operations due to a lack of enough fish of different kinds.

It is frustrating that during this full season, while people are prepared with their tools, the fishermen have been unable to catch enough fish from rivers and canals.

This is supposed to be their busiest time of the year, with fishermen and traders working day and night to ensure enough production to run their families. They have set up open platforms and warehouses on both sides of the rail tracks in Atrai Ahsanganj and KDC areas.

This time, with business down, many are worried about managing basic family expenses throughout the year.

They blame the scarcity on illegal catching, untimely rains, and drying up of rivers and canals of the region, including the once mighty Atrai, Punorbhaba, Tulsiganga and the Little Jamuna rivers.

A trader named Usman Sheikh said he and other traders used to supply dried fish to Syedpur, Nilphamari, Rangpur, Lalmonirhat, Jamalpur and Dhaka.

“We have been involved in this business for a long time. Making dried fish requires a lot of labour alongside huge investment. Ignoring the sun and rain and the smell of fish, we are continuing with this profession,” said Abdus Sattar Sardar, another trader who purchases fish from local fishermen.

Trader Mozahar Molla said the main fishes of the area are puti, taki and khalisha. “We get 15kg of dried puti from 40kg of fresh fish, 40kg of taki from 160kg, and 40kg of dried khalisha from fresh fish. We measure the weight three times,” he added.

Upazila Senior Fisheries Officer Palash Chandra Debnath admitted there was a lack of awareness on protecting fish resources in the area.

“We trained the people involved in this business last year on preparing dried fish by following health guidelines.  We all need to be aware of the importance of protecting water bodies and stop defying the ban on hunting mother fish,” he told Dhaka Tribune.