The island upazila of Hatia in Noakhali, bordered by the Meghna River and the Bay of Bengal, is prominent for producing dried fishes that are supplied to different districts of the country.
Fishermen of the island catch a variety of marine fish. Along with other fishes, they have netted a huge amount of chewa fish this year. As a result, 15 ghats of the upazila have produced about 36,000 tonnes of dried chewa fish this year whose market value is about Tk300 crore.
The island's fishermen said the demand for dried chewa fish has grown significantly as the size of the fish netted this year is comparatively bigger. The island meets half of the demand for chewa fish and dried chewa fish in the country.
However, the local fishermen are deprived of fair prices in the absence of better communication.
They think that the production of dried fish will increase several times more if the communication is improved. They demanded the installation of a radar light at Janglia, the main ghat of the upazila, as fishermen often lose their way while returning from the sea at night.
According to the locals, compared to last year, the number of fishermen and labourers involved in the production of dry chewa fish have increased this year. The work of drying chews fish is carried out on about 5,000 acres of land adjacent to different ghats of the upazila. It takes three to four days to dry the fish under the sun. After production, the dried fishes are stocked in large piles. It is then weighed and stored in sacks of different sizes and sold at wholesale prices.
Fishermen and traders involved in the dry fish production said every day about 350 engine-driven boats go to the sea from the 15 ghats of the island. At least 9,500 people are involved in fishing. In addition, 1000 labourers are involved in drying the fish in the sun. There are about 85 dry fish wholesalers and at least 300 retailers in the ghats. Moreover, dozens of wholesalers from different parts of the country come to the upazila to buy dried fish.
According to the fishermen, at the beginning of the season, per maund of dried chewa fish was sold at Tk2,600, and later, it was sold at Tk2,800-Tk2,900.
The fishermen said even though dried chewa fish worth crores of taka is produced every year, they are deprived of fair prices due to the extra cost of transportation and underdeveloped communication system.
Abdur Rahim Majhi, a dried fish goods producer at Jahajmara Ghat on the island, said, "The amount of chewa fish netted this season has surpassed all previous records. Dried chewa fish is getting a better price in the market as compared to raw fish. We have been able to make up the losses incurred previously."
"The fishermen cannot find the ghats when they return from the sea at night after fishing. Often they go the wrong way with boats full of fish, and get stuck in the shoals for a long time. As a result, the fishes in the boat rot. The rotten fishes can neither be sold nor be dried. The fishermen then are bound to dump the rotten fish in the sea," he added.
He urged the Fisheries Department and local people's representatives to install a radar light at Jangalia Ghat for the sake of the island's fishermen.
Hatia upazila Fisheries Officer Anil Chandra Das said, "We do not have any statistics on those involved in dried chewa fish production. And since there is no government allocation for them, it is not possible to cooperate."
If the fishermen submit their demand in black and white, necessary steps will be taken after consulting the higher authorities, he added.