Mymensingh Correspondent: The aquaculture industry in Mymensingh is starting to bounce back from the coronavirus fallout as cross-country transportation facilities have returned to normal.
The government had imposed a nationwide shutdown on all economic activities between March 26 and May 30 last year in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19.
As a result, thousands of fish farmers in the division, one of Bangladesh’s main fish producing hubs, faced significant losses due to a lack of smooth transportation facilities, according to industry insiders.
In 2018-19, inland aquaculture grew by about 3.46 per cent year-on-year to 24.89 lakh tonnes, accounting for around 56.76 per cent of the country’s total fish production.
At the same time, Mymensingh contributed roughly 23 per cent or 5.5 lakh tonnes, posting a 2.97 per cent year-on-year growth, according to data from the Department of Fisheries.
There are around 112,000 fish farmers in the division that mostly hailed from the Trishal, Gouripur, Phulpur, Tarakanda, Bhaluka and Muktagacha upazilas.
There are also some 295 hatcheries and 1,043 nurseries in the district.
“Local farmers were unable to supply their fishes to various parts of the country due to a lack of transport facilities during the countrywide shutdown,” said Dilip Kumar Saha, district fisheries officer of Mymensingh.
As the fishes remained unsold while feeding and maintenance costs increased, the farmers incurred serious losses.
“So, they (farmers) were forced to sell their fishes at throwaway prices in local markets,” he added.
Mymensingh’s aquaculture industry faced losses of Tk 400 crore amid the ongoing pandemic. In order to help local fish farmers tackle the Covid-19 crisis, the government rolled out a Tk 5,000 crore stimulus package, of which around Tk 19 crore has been disbursed so far.
However, it is a good sign that the hatchery and nursery owners still managed to cut a profit despite the economic downturn.
“We supported the hatchery and nursery farmers in a coordinated way amid the shutdown so that they can deliver their products to various destinations,” Saha said.
Mymensingh produced around 3.95 lakh tonnes of fish each year against local demand of 1.26 lakh tonnes.
The surplus is supplied to different districts in the country, including Dhaka, according to Md Zakir Hossain, deputy assistant director of District Fisheries Office.
“In some cases, farmers are producing fish in massive quantities but do not get fair prices for their hard work,” Hossain said.
For example, catfish is sold at Tk 150-170 per kilogramme at the farmer’s level while it is sold at Tk 300-400 in retail markets.
Similarly, other fishes are sold for nearly half their retail value as middlemen eat up a lion’s share of the profits, local farmers said.
For sustainable and safe production, a fair price for farmers should be ensured.
Besides, a fish processing zone and cold storages should be set up in Mymensingh as well in order to support the local farmers, they added.
Fish is gaining popularity in the global fast-food market and since Bangladesh is one of the world’s leading producers with a total production of 43.84 lakh tonnes in 2018-19, the country could tap into this mostly unexplored sector.
While speaking to this correspondent, Deputy Assistant Director Md Zakir Hossain said they test two or three samples of fish feed at the Fisheries Inspection and Quality Control (FIQC) in Savar every month to detect if heavy metals were used as part of efforts to ensure safe fish production.
They also ensure that the feed contains the desired fat and protein levels.
Depending on its result, the fish feeds are allowed to be sold in the markets and officials of the department make farmers aware of the tested products, Hossain said.
Tofail Ahmed, senior fisheries officer of Trishal upazila, said around 7,500 fish farmers faced losses amid the pandemic, but only 50 hatchery and 104 nursery owners in the area could made profits.
Shale Siddique Suzon, a fish farmer of Panchpara village in Trishal, said he faced a loss of Tk 10 lakh.
“I have been cultivating fish in full swing at three ponds to recover this loss,” said Suzon, adding that being cash poor has become a challenge for many farmers.
Mujibur Rahman, a fish farmer of Boilor Banshkuri village in the same upazila, said he started cultivating fishes in his three ponds and if he gets fair prices, he could recover the losses.
The aquaculture industry in Mymensingh employs around seven lakh people.
This means that many workers might lose their jobs and face a financial crisis if the industry is severely affected.
“So, this industry’s issues should be addressed on priority basis, identifying the present crisis,” farmers said.
Besides, access to finance on easy terms is needed for farmers to cope with the situation, they added.
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