Crab farmers in Satkhira have lost around Tk32.2 crore as they have lost their export market due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus across the country.
While soft crab export has started now on a small scale, hard crabs are not exported at all. Consequently, crab traders are being affected severely.
The crabs selected for exports are being sold at a lower price in the local markets. Moreover, due to a lack of demand, crab production has also decreased.
Although the government has prepared a list of affected traders, they are yet to get any assistance.
According to the district Fisheries Department, there are 2,168 crab farmers in the district who cultivate crabs on 352.25 hectares of land. These farms employ 1,343 men and 1,157 women.
The annual production of crabs until April this year was 945.22 tonnes.
The business loss of crabs due to Covid-19 was around Tk32.2 crore from late March until early September, said sources from the department.
Parulia Bazar in Debhata upazila of the district is known as a large commercial market for crabs.
Azgar Ali Gazi has a hatchery named Mim Enterprise that trades in crabs there. His hatchery is closed now as he failed to pay the salaries of his employees during the Covid-19 shutdown. However, he is nominally involved in the retail business of crab.
Azgar Ali Gazi said, "Due to the outbreak of coronavirus, crabs are no longer exported abroad. So, the price of crabs has dropped. I am now selling six-seven pieces of grade selected crabs at Tk150-170 per kilogram."
Earlier, the price of crabs of the same grade was Tk1,200-1,500, he added.
Ruhul Haque is another crab trader of Parulia Bazar. He said most of the crabs used to be exported to China.
"After the closure due to coronavirus, crab exports to China is yet to start. Soft crabs have been exported to Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong since a month ago on a limited scale," he said.
He continued, "Before the outbreak of Covid-19, we used to export 10 tonnes of crabs, but now we export merely a ton and the price is lower too. The price of a grade crab is only Tk300 which was Tk1,000 earlier."
Ruhul Haque further said that they brought crabs from a farm in the Munshiganj area of Shyamnagar Upazila, and sent them to traders in Dhaka.
"From there the crabs were exported abroad. Now I am sending large-sized crabs (like two large pieces make a kilogram, or three of them make two kilograms) to Dhaka.
Farid Nine Star Agro BD Ltd is a large crab hatchery at Munshiganj Union, and around 400 people work there.
They also have experienced a business loss during the coronavirus period. Their soft-shelled crab production has declined as well.
Amir Hossain, manager of this hatchery, said the export of crabs stopped after the coronavirus outbreak. Although exports have started since then, it is mainly restricted to a small quantity of soft crabs.
"After the start of export after the coronavirus period, so far we have exported 60 tonnes of crabs to England, America and Singapore worth Tk8.17 crore. If there was no coronavirus outbreak, we would have exported 100 tonnes more of crabs," he said.
"Our business has lost more than Tk13.5 crore as we could not export. Hatchery production has also been reduced due to lack of demand. It is also uncertain how we will recover from this loss," he said.
The concerned department of the government has assessed the amount of loss and other details. But we are yet to get any response from them, added Amir Hossain.
The export of soft shell crabs has already started, and they are being sent to Australia, Japan, Turkey, England, America and Singapore etc, said Satkhira District Fisheries Officer Mashiur Rahman.
"However, the export of hard shell crabs is yet to begin. Though China is a large commercial market for crabs, export to the country has not started," he said.
Before the outbreak of coronavirus, large crabs were sold at Tk1,200-1,400 per kilogram, but now they are being sold at only Tk250-300. The sales volume is also very low, added the official.
Asked about the steps to recover the losses, he said, "Following the directives of higher authorities, I have prepared and sent a list of damages. However, no decision has been taken from the higher authorities," said Mashiur.