Bangladesh now meets 70% of its demand for dried fish with imports
The local production and supply of dried fish, widely known as shutki, which is a delicacy on the menu of many people, has been on the decline over the past few years despite its growing demand.
The local supply has fallen due to various adversities including difference in local and import prices and lack of profit, according to industry insiders.
To meet the demand, dried fishes are being imported from different countries and the import volume is increasing every year.
According to the data of National Board of Revenue (NBR), dried fish worth Tk234.204 crore was imported from different countries during FY 2018-2019 while the import amount was worth Tk177.742 crore in FY2017-2018.
On the other hand, the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) data shows that dried fish worth Tk26.628 crore was exported in FY 2018-2019 and Tk38.429 crore in FY 2017-2018.
Visiting Karwanbazaar, Dhaka Tribune found different types of dried fish available in both retail and wholesale shops in the market.
Nurzahan Begum from Dhaka's Mohammadpur area, who wanted to buy some dried fish, said members of her family liked to eat dried Loitta fish more than meat and so she bought it almost every week. “Dried fish is really delicious. I usually prefer it to other fishes," she said.
"It is cheap and five members of my family can be fed with a small quantity of dried fish. However, prices of dried fish are increasing these days," she added.
Retailer Saddam Hussen said: "People buy all types of dried fishes but Loitta and Bashpata shutkis are the most sought after by consumers. The prices are increasing as the supplies are falling."
"Shutki has a huge demand especially among lower income people. We saw a decline in sale recently as it takes more onion to cook dried fish. So people bought less shutki in the last few months since onion prices went up too much for most people," he added.
Local dried fish business shrinking
People are losing interest in producing local dried fish because for most of them the business failed to fetch enough profits.
According to traders and importers, Bangladesh imports 70% of its demand for dried fish. They fear that local production may stop altogether in a few years if necessary initiatives are not taken right now.
Worker Mohammad Iqbal from Makuliya in Chittagong says the peak season for dried fish production is from October to February and he works on a temporary basis.
“Earlier I didn’t have time to rest, but now I don’t get much work to do since production has fallen significantly. We used to receive Tk250-300 per day but since I don’t get much contract these days, I earn much less and have to do another work,” he adds.
Dried fish producer and Chittagong Khudro Shutki Utpadon O Biponon Somobay Somiti LTD President Akbar Hussen blames government policy for the dismal situation of the industry.
“It is a traditional food item in Bangladesh. But there is no loan facility from banks or SME funds for the sector. Besides there is no facility from the government. So day by day the industry is shrinking,” he says.
There are 150 chang (area having bamboo structures for drying fish) at Makuliya and of them 120 are active. Currently 5,000 people are working there.
According to importers, dried fish which they can buy for Tk200-220 a kg from India cannot be bought for less than Tk500 a kg in Bangladesh.
To produce one kg dried fish, it requires five kg fish and in Bangladesh the average fish price is Tk100-150 a kg. Because of high production cost, the price of local dried fish is high. Importers are not interested to buy those at high prices.
Importer Mohammad Dulal says around 90% of the demand for dried fish used to be met with local production 10 years ago but the situation has changed quite a lot now and it seems that the local production of dried fish will just come to an end within 5-10 years.
“On the other hand, the price of per kg fish is around Tk12-15 in India. Because of their huge production of fish, they can produce dried fish at significantly lower price,” he says.
“If the government takes effective initiatives to increase fish production, as well as to secure rivers, canals, haors and maritime zones for fish production, dried fish production can be increased,” he suggests.
In the same vein, Md Sahjahan, a wholesaler in Karwanbazaar, says fish production must be increased to produce dried fish as per the demand.
Politon Barua, a dried fish trader in Asadgonj, Chittagong, says: “People engaged in dried fish production have been facing chronic losses and wrapping up businesses. Most workers are quitting the profession because of this and we are depending more on imports.”
Exporter Farid Ahmed, secretary of Asadgonj Dried Fish Merchant Association, says: "Imports of dried fish are nearly doubling each year. Around 70% of our demand for dried fish is met with imports from different countries including India, Myanmar, Pakistan."
"The rest 30% is met with local production, mainly at Sonadia of Cox bazaar, Teknaf and Sundarbans. Of the 30%, we only export 5%,” Farid said.
“Bangladeshis living abroad including Dubai, Saudi Arabia and European countries, like to eat dried fish. So we export for them. Around 2.5 lakh kilograms of dried fish have been exported this year,” he added.
Our Chittagong Correspondent Anwar Hussain contributed to this report.