Fish scales: A promising new item to diversify exports

Fish scales are sold at a rate of Tk15 a kg in the fish markets

Fish traders in Jessore have started to earn much needed foreign currency by selling fish scales.

Fish scales are sold at a rate of Tk15 a kg in the fish markets of the district. After some processing, these residual parts of fishes are exported to many south-east Asian countries including China and Japan.

According to Export Promotion Bureau statistics, Bangladesh exports fish scales worth Tk200 crore every year. 

Fish scales are used to produce batteries, electrical products, artificial cornea and bones, medicines, fish and poultry feed and various cosmetics items.

Visiting many fish markets in Jessore, UNB found fish scales in high demand. Besides charging Tk10 for cutting a 1kg fish, fish cutters earn Tk20,000 extra per month by selling the scales.

“Not only scales but we also sell fish galls. Galls are used to produce fish feed, while gills of fishes are used to make soups after drying,” said Md Jahid, a fish cutter.

Md Bablu is a warehouse owner who collects fish scales from various fish markets of Jessore on a daily basis. Talking to UNB, Bablu said that he sells fish scales to traders in Chittagong, who then export the item to other countries.

“I sell fish scales at a rate of Tk2500 to Tk3000 per maund (1 maund = approx. 40kg). The business was first started by a Dhaka-based trader named Shamsul Alam. Fish scales contain chemical components like collagen fibre and amino acid, which are necessary to produce cosmetics items and medicines,” said Bablu.

After talking to some traders, UNB learned the process by which fish scales are prepared for selling.

First, fish scales are collected and washed in clean or warm water to get rid of oily substances. After washing, wet scales are dried in the open to make them crispy.

Some people grind the scales in mixers and sell them as powder.

Prices of fish scales vary according to the type and size of fish from which they come. Scales of big fish are sold at high rates, while those of small fish like shrimp are sold at a different rate. Besides, the prices of fish galls and gills are also different from the prices of scales.

According to Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority, only 10-12 traders are involved in exporting fish scales. However, around 5,000 people are directly involved with the trade. A total of 2,500 tons of fish scales are exported every year, which brings home foreign currencies worth Tk200 crore.

Fish scale traders said that their business has the potential to grow more if they receive priority and focus from the government.

“I'll talk to the respective authorities so that fish scale business can be expanded,” said Tamijul Islam Khan, deputy commissioner (DC) of Jessore.