The global coronavirus pandemic has severely affected Bangladesh's shrimp exporters, as they have faced order cancellations amounting to around Tk600 crore in the last 20 days.
This has been a double blow to them, because it is the season to buy shrimp on the local market.
Speaking to The Business Standard, President of the Bangladesh Frozen Foods Exporters Association (BFFEA) Kazi Belayet said, "This is the season to buy shrimp, but if order cancellations continue, we will no-longer be able to afford to do so."
He added that March is the start of the season to catch black tiger shrimps, and exporters try to buy as many as possible during this time.
Bangladesh's shrimp exports have been dwindling for nearly a decade for various reasons. The virus has come as a big problem for them, like most other sectors.
According to the Export Promotion Bureau data, Bangladesh's shrimp exports have decreased by 24 percent in the last 10 years. In the 2011-2012 fiscal year, Bangladesh exported 212.23 million lbs (pounds), compared to 160.98 million lbs in 2018-19.
"Now the factories are closed for the sake of the workers and employees, as they have to work in an icy atmosphere while processing the fish," said Belayet – adding that the coronavirus spreads in a cold environment.
Now the BFFEA is seeking the government's help to tackle this crisis. Interest-free loans and some compensation could be an option for the exporters.
Responding to a query, Vice President of the BFFEA Devabrata Barua said, "The Covid-19 outbreak has threatened the sustainability of this sector."
"Shrimp exports have been facing challenges over the past decade, as the global market for shrimp has shrunk and many factories have already stopped their operations as a result," he added.
Meanwhile, when asked why the global market for shrimp has shrunk, BFFEA President Kazi Belayet said, "Our black tiger [a unique species of shrimp] used to be in high demand on the global market, but a cheaper species ate away our business."
"Ours is good and tasty, but that particular species is a hybrid, and farmers get a huge yield in the shortest time."
He said a rise in local consumption has also pushed down exports.
When asked why Bangladeshi exporters are not growing those hybrid shrimps, Belayet said the government does not allow its cultivation in the country as that species pollutes water.
"Our country is flood-prone, and if water from the shrimp cultivation tanks spreads, no other fish can live in that water," he added.
Yet, the BFFEA president is trying to convince the government to launch a pilot project to cultivate that type of shrimp.
Meanwhile, millers are running below capacity because of the lack of shrimps.
According to industry insiders, against their annual capacity of four lakh tonnes of shrimp, they only received 50,000 tonnes of the country's total production in 2019.
That year, the total production of shrimp in Bangladesh was 1.6 lakh tonnes, but the lion's share was consumed locally.