Bangladesh is largely dependent on imports of dried fish to meet the domestic demand, but businessmen in Nilphamari's Syedpur upazila export about 150 trucks of dried puti fish to India every year, according to sector insiders.
Sheikh Md Delwar Hossain, general secretary of Syedpur Dried Fish Traders Welfare Association, said although other dried fishes are imported from different countries including India, dried puti fish worth around Tk50 crore is exported from the wholesale market in Syedpur.
There are 13 wholesale shops and more than 50 shops involved in the dried fish (commonly known as shutki) business beside the Rangpur-Nilphamari highway. Over 500 workers are directly involved in this sector there.
At the wholesale shops in Syedpur, loitta shutki is currently being sold at Tk700, faisha shutki at Tk500, chala at Tk400, churi shutki at Tk400 and puti shutki at Tk200-250 per kilogram. Aside from these, dried fish of more than a hundred species are sold at that market.
The business leaders said Chattogram has the biggest dried fish market in the country, while Syedpur has the second largest. Traders in Syedpur collect marine and native dried fish from Chattogram, Khulna, Pabna, Barishal, Barguna, Satkhira and other places and sell those to traders across the country. Several crore taka is transacted in the dried fish business in Syedpur every month.
The traders do not have information on the total amount of dried fish sold in Syedpur, but they said their business surges significantly during Kartik to Chaitra (mid-October to mid-April). During this period, they sell dried fish worth several lakhs of taka in this market every day. At other times, traders usually buy dried fish and store them to sell later. Especially in the monsoon season, people are eager to buy dried puti fish.
Bismillah Market is the most notable wholesaler in Syedpur that exports dried fish to India. Along with it, Lucky Enterprise, Sheikh Enterprise, and Masud Ali also export dried fish to India.
Owner of Bismillah Market Md Shahabuddin Mia has achieved special honor as the third highest taxpayer in the district. He also became the top taxpayer at the Akhaura land port in Brahmanbaria last year. He exports dried puti fish to several states of India through this port.
The veteran trader said the price of fish in the Indian market is comparatively lower than in Bangladesh. So, India usually exports dried fish to different countries. Bangladesh imports different species of dried fish including tengra, shing, pabda, chala shutki through the Hili land port from them.
But, Bismillah Market has been exporting about 100 trucks of dried puti fish to the Seven Sister States (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura) of India every year. The demand for Bangladeshi dried puti fish there is constantly increasing day by day.
Bijan Kumar Mahanta, manager of Bismillah Market, said they exported dried fish to India at Tk45 lakh per truck. According to him, the market exports dried fish worth around Tk45 crore to India every year.
Milton Hossain, owner of Munshi Market, said Syedpur has gained a great reputation in the dried fish business all over the country, but there are also problems here. For example, insects sometimes attack the stored dried fish and ruin them. Many times these fish are powdered and sold as animal feed, which incurs losses for the traders. To overcome this situation, a dry fish cold storage is needed in the area.
Basid Ali, president of Niamatpur Dried Fish Traders Cooperative Society Limited, said, "The dried fish business was flourishing here, but traders have lost lakhs of taka due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The government should give incentives to these traders considering these issues."
Syedpur Upazila Senior Fisheries Officer Sunny Khan Majlish said, "At least 4,500 tonne fish is sold annually at the largest dried fish market in the country's northern region. The good news is that in the import-dependent fish market, dried puti fish worth crores of taka is also exported from Syedpur."
"However, the traders have suffered a bit due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The government is making arrangements to provide them loans at 4% interest," he added.
Asked if there is any initiative from the administration to preserve dried fish, Syedpur Upazila Nirbahi Officer Md Shamim Hossain said, "There is no government cold storage facility in the country for fish conservation. For this reason, there is no scope of setting a government cold storage facility here. However, if anyone wants to do it privately, we will assist him."