Fishermen said the coronavirus outbreak had dealt a severe blow to dry fish trade on the island
After a lull of about six months due to Covid, the dried fish industry of Dublar Char in the Sundarbans is starting to liven up again.
Dried fish, popularly known as “shutki”, has a storage life of several months and is considered a delicacy not only in Bangladesh but also in many foreign countries where it's exported. Dried fish is inextricably associated with the overpowering smell that emanates when being cooked.
For many fishermen families on Dublar Char, the dried fish sector is one of the main sources of livelihood. Though 20% of the total fish catch is sun dried round the year in Bangladesh, the substantial production takes place from November to March.
During a recent visit to Dublar Char, this correspondent found that hundreds of fishermen were busy setting up their boats at the crack of dawn and returning with loads of catch after a few hours.
UNB also came across several makeshift houses on the char built to accommodate those involved in dried fish processing. Loitta, Chhuri, Chingri, Rupchanda, Khalisha, Vheda and Poa were some of the varieties processed on the island.
This correspondent also came across temporary fishermen colonies in the coastal areas of Maheralir Khal, Alorkol, Majherchar, Afcikollo, Narikelbaria, Manki khali, Safra Khali and Shallarchar under Sharankhola range of the Sundarbans.
Fishermen said the coronavirus outbreak had dealt a severe blow to dry fish trade on the island. They struggled to sell their produce in lockdown until a few months back and the cancellation of the traditional rash mela was a double whammy.
Khan Jahan Ali, a fisherman, said, “I came to Dublar Char in the Bengali month of Kartik and returned in Chaitra. We went to the estuary of the sea and caught fish and then kept it under the sun for drying."
Dube Biswas, a dried fish trader, said the demand for dried fish of Dublar Char is high in the local markets in Chittagong, Saidpur and other districts.
However, this year, the price of dried fish has come down due to the pandemic. Each maund of died Loitta now costs Tk10,000-12,000, while the price of large Chhuri is around Tk30,000-35,000 per mound and small Chhuri Tk38,000 a maund.
Similarly, a mound of Rupchanda (big size) costs around Tk80,000 while the price of its small size is nearly Tk40,000 per maund. Chingri shutki (big size) is being sold at Tk44,000 a maund and its small size Tk24,000 a mound.
Golam Mostafa, a dried fish trader, said “I purchase dried fish from Dublar Char and supply it to wholesale markets in Saidpur, Rangpur and Chittagong. But this year, the price of dry fish has come down due to coronavirus.”
According to sources at the Sundarbans east zone, the government has set a revenue target of Tk3.20 crore from the dried fish sector this financial year. In the last fiscal, the target was Tk3.17 crore.