By Debojit Saha
Bangladeshi people are popularly referred to as “Mache Bhate Bangali” which translates to fish and rice makes a Bengali. This small saying is evidence that the culture and consumption of fish has important implications for national income and food security. According to Department of Fisheries, Bangladesh Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock (DoF), fisheries contribution to National GDP is 3.69% and agricultural GDP is 23.12% which makes fisheries the second most valuable agricultural crop in Bangladesh. This sector contributes to employment of 17.80 million people which is approximately 11% of total population. Given that fisheries are a very promising sector, Kaizen CRS provides an in-depth look at one of the most valuable industries in the nation. The study is based on secondary research and market visit to three key wholesale fish markets in Dhaka: Swarighat, Karwan Bazar and Jatrabari.
Importance of fisheries in the Bangladesh economy
The fisheries sector has played a vital role in the economy of Bangladesh. This sector has tremendous potential from the perspective of economic development of the country. Fish, alone, contribute about 63% of the animal protein in the daily dietary requirements of Bangladeshi people. The per capita fish consumption in Bangladesh is 53g/person/day but there is still room for improvement as the standard level of consumption should be 60g/person/day. The industry is growing at an average rate of 5.2% for the last five years. This huge economic contribution is due to the effort of the entrepreneurs in the business.
Fishing opportunity in Bangladesh fall broadly into four categories: (i) inland capture (open water), (ii) inland culture (closed water), (iii) marine industrial or trawl fishing, (iv) marine artisanal or small-scale fishing.
The soil, water and climate of Bangladesh are very favorable for inland fisheries in both open and closed water. Therefore, most of the fish traded in domestic market are from inland capture.
There are primarily three fish cultivation methods: capture, culture/farming and marine.
• Capture is a traditional method of catching fish in rivers, beels, haor and baor done by independent fishermen in small boats usually using simple gear like traps, gillnets, beach seines, purse seines, dip nets, cast nets and small long lines. Most of these catches are consumed locally either processed or fresh.
• Culture: This is a method by means of which rural entrepreneurs scientifically farm fish in pond or closed water space. This is a more formal way of catching fish than capture.
• Marine: This method includes catching fish in coastal areas with either mechanized or non-mechanized trawlers.
The contribution of the capture method of fishing with respect to the total fish catch of the country is 30%, while fish culture takes up 53% and marine fishing takes up only 18%. The high proportion of fish captured by farming is an indication that the fish industry is slowly becoming more structured. Nevertheless, the price and demand of fish depends fishing method as well as the species.
There is a wide variety of fish species in Bangladesh which can be grouped into five broad categories: hilsa, carp, catfish, prawn and others. In the inland open water system. There are 260 native species, 13 exotic fish species and 20 species of shrimp.
Most of the 260 species of freshwater fish and 20 species of freshwater prawns are greatly favored by consumers. Carps, rui, catla and mrigal, particularly from rivers or other water bodies, command the highest prices. Generally, consumers prefer bigger fish from rivers or open water bodies. These fish fetch higher prices in the market than cultured fishes from ponds. Carps, whether they are from open water bodies or from ponds, can easily be identified by their bright color and their texture.
The country also has a coastal area of 2.30 million ha and a coastline of 714 km along the Bay of Bengal, which supports a large artisanal and coastal fisheries. Bangladesh has about 130 deep-sea fishing trawlers, 22000 mechanized fishing boats, and 25,000 non-mechanized fishing boats. Consumption of marine fishes is largely confined to coastal communities in areas like Chittagong, Noakhali and coastal islands. In the recent years, improved transportation and promotional activities by the Bangladesh Fisheries Development Corporation (BFDC) have allowed marine fishes to become more accessible to consumers in Dhaka, Khulna and Chittagong cities. Consumers in Chittagong city and rural areas of the Chittagong division are more accustomed to marine fishes than people in other areas.
Consumption of marine fishes is confined to marine species like pomfret, Indian salmon, snappers and jew fish. All marine species with the exception of pomfrets and hilsa, command relatively low prices.
In Dhaka, wholesale fish markets are only functional for a few hours in the early morning where traders are involved in fish trading from 6 am to 9-10 am. Medium and large size fishes are separated from a mixed group by species and size and are sold in hali (4 pieces) basis and most small size fishes are sold in maund (37.6 kg) basis. Fish are mainly sold in open space at fixed prices by the traders. There are no stalls for the traders but a few sheds exists. Furthermore, commodities such as electricity, telecommunication, preserving and freezing faculties are not available.
Absence of Cold Storage
In Swarighat, there are 4 ice plants in the market and ice storage facilities exist. But mostly block ice is used with manual methods in which the blocks are crushed to lay the fish upon. There is clearly a deficiency of ice especially during the peak season and this is reflected in the inflated prices of ice. Only river water is used to make ice which is of very uneven quality and is not often chlorinated. This whole exercise is very unhealthy and unhygienic.
Absence of Hygiene
Hygienic condition of wholesale market is very poor. At the market time these places become so muddy and walking becomes very difficult. There is no drainage system and sanitation receives a low priority at all stages of marketing. For example, the cleaning and washing of fish and containers to carry fish are not common practice and fails to use chemicals (bleaching powder, chlorine etc) to sterilize surfaces which are used to hold fishes.
From field visits of researchers, it is estimated that the primary producers scarcely receive or earn near about 30-40% of the selling price for their production. Depending upon the estimated cost of transportation, preservation, icing and money paid to moneylenders of the market, the fishers’ or farmers’ share of the prices differ a lot. Aratdar’s profit per kg is Tk 10. They also charge about 2-3% commission of the sell price and 4% interest from producers who take credit from aratdars. The middleman’s share is near about 40-45%, while the remaining 15-20% is spent for transportation, preservation and other charges of the sell price.
Exports in the fishery industry
Less than 3% of total fish production in Bangladesh is exported but still fishery exports contribute to 2.01% of total export earnings. The last recorded export earning amounts to 630.24 million USD in 2014. According to experts, this figure is still not a true reflection of the real potential of the sector. In order to enjoy benefit of true export potential of fish there should be ample fish processing units. Currently, there are 133 fish processing plants in Bangladesh which are mostly located in port cities (Khulna and Chittagong) of which 74 processing plants are EU approved. This means 44% of the processing units are not fit for EU market whereas Bangladesh is traditionally oriented towards the EU market as opposed to the US and Japan.
The popularity of fish for export varies from species to species. Shrimp is a very popular item for export; about 40% of wild shrimp and 95% of cultured shrimp produced in Bangladesh are exported. The two main exported cultured species are Black Tiger shrimp or Giant Tiger Prawn (Penaeus monodon) and Giant River Prawn (Macrobrachiumrosenbergii).
A variety of captured fish are exported of which the most well-known is the hilsha shad (Hilshailisha). On the other hand, cultured species fish with the highest export potential are pangasius (Pangasius Hypophthalmus) and tilapia (Oreochromis spp). The most products for export are as frozen into blocks or an almost negligible part as fillets.
Thus this sector has the potential to be a very good source for export earnings. The bottle necks that hinder growth in this sector are: lack of skilled labor force, lack of cold storage facilities, and lack of supply of fish since 97% of fish are locally consumed and low quality of seed fish i.e. the primary production.
The following steps are imperative in the improved trade of fish:
• Selling and promoting sea fish in local market;
• Educating fishermen on how to handle, preserve and ice fish for transport;
• Teaching the private sector how to freeze and store fish;
• Introducing good and hygienic infrastructure i.e proper drainage and sanitation in fish market to make fish trade more comfortable
• Introducing new fish products such as fish fingers, fish burgers, fish balls, fish cakes, and fish cutlets, which may open new possibilities for export by the private sector of value-added fish products in the near future.
Fisheries are a very lucrative sector for both domestic and international markets. Unfortunately, the fisheries market is highly unstructured. If the numerous problems are addressed, the industry has immense potential to prosper and contribute a significant amount of revenue to the country.
Consumers of all income groups always prefer fresh fish to iced or frozen fish. Frozen fish is the least preferred by consumers. Additionally, apathy towards marine fish in areas other than coastal region can also linked to lack of proper transport and storage facility. People usually prefer fresh fish and since the cold chain in Bangladesh is not that effective, marine fish rarely remain fresh by the time it reach markets in Dhaka. And in case of areas other than Dhaka and Chittagong there is still no proper central market place for fisheries. Therefore popularity of marine fish is confined to coastal areas. The flow of fish distribution is given below: