Inadequate and dilapidated transportation facilities have made it hard for Hatia fishermen to keep their business of dried fish – locally known as Chewa Shutki – afloat.
Fishermen in Jahajmara, Nijhumdwip, Burirchar, and Sonadia union of Hatia, an island of Noakhali district that meets half the demand of this particular variety of Bangali delicacy, have produced about 8,500 tonnes of Chewa Shutki this season that is worth at least Tk100 crore.
But, inadequate transportation facilities have put those involved in processing Shutki in severe difficulty.
Fishermen unload their catch from the sea at the Jangalia Canal ghat, which moves 3-3.5 kilometres south during the monsoon. As a result, fishermen have to walk the entire muddy distance to the ghat – carrying the fish.
Abul Bashar Majhi, a dry goods trader at Jangalia, said there is no alternative to the riverways for transporting fish but during the dry season, it is not possible to bring fish boats through the narrow canal.
The Jangalia Canal connected to the River Meghna is 30-40 feet deep. If the government widens the two banks through renovation and constructs an embankment road and landing platforms, the fishermen could benefit; not only during the Chewa season but in other seasons too, which would add revenue to the national exchequer.
In order to quickly send the fish to different markets of the country, it is necessary to dredge the Junglia Canal and build an embankment, he added.
Another local trader, Enayet Bepari, said in order to expand the fish market here, all the roads leading to the main road – Afazia Jahazmara Road through Mohammadpur Bazar – need to be repaired sustainably.
Then the fish and dried fish can be delivered to different markets of the country quickly, he further said.
Some 3,000 fishermen of Jangalia are engaged in catching fish during the Chewa season, using around 200 engine-driven boats. About 2,000 more people are involved in the process of drying the fish.
There are more than 200 retailers and wholesalers here. Traders said 7,000 tonnes of Chewa Shutki are marketed as raw fish at the Jangalia ghat.
They have demanded an improved transportation system which they believe will boost the production of Shutki.
Dried Chewa fish production is done on about 200 acres of land in the upazila. At least 7,750 fishermen and about 310 boats are engaged in catching fish. Each boat has two sailors and 25 assistant sailors. Around 450 more workers of different ages are involved in drying and processing the Shutki.
Hatia Upazila Fisheries Officer Anil Chandra Das said, "No one has contacted us regarding the renovation of the Jangalia canal or the construction of an embankment and jetty. If we get a written application in this regard, we will take the necessary steps to inform the higher authorities."
Chewa fish is available from November to March. Dried Chewa is used for preparing fish and poultry feed too. After catching Chewa fish, it is first dried in the sun to remove water and various microorganisms. Then, it is dried in the open air and sun for at least three to four more days. Sometimes, salt is applied.
Every worker in the production of shutki gets a Tk250 daily wage. There are 65 dried fish wholesalers as well as at least 300 retailers in the upazila. Further, about 35 large wholesalers come to the island from different parts of the country.
Besides fishermen, people of different professions – including vehicle owners and workers – are also involved in this work this season.