Dried fish traders at Lalpur Shutki Palli in Brahmanbaria had just started recovering from their pandemic-induced losses, but the fear of further losses has gripped their mind once again as another lockdown spell started on Monday, casting a long shadow on their business.
In 2020, when the pandemic turned the world upside down, their dried fishes in stock got damaged totally, causing them a loss of at least Tk12 crore.
The situation, however, started to improve in the third quarter of last year, and by December, it was almost normal. Targeting the upcoming Ramadan, they invested Tk150 crore this year.
"But our dreams are now under threat as a seven-day lockdown is underway. If the lockdown rolls into several weeks, we will face huge losses again like last year," said Anis Uddin, a dried fish trader of the village.
Shutki Palli bustles with various activities from collecting fishes to drying them between October and March every year. At this time, fishes are dried, traded as well as stocked. The traders sell their stock from April to September.
Sukmal Chandra Das, a trader from Lalpur Shutki Palli, said, "I used to sell dried fishes worth Tk1 crore annually. Wholesalers from across the country come to buy from us. I faced Tk4-5 lakh loss due to the pandemic."
"From January this year, the sale had started in full swing again. But I am now worried about my stock as the infection rate is increasing at an alarming rate and the government has declared another lockdown to stem the spread of infection," he added.
Narayan Chandra, who has been in this business for 35 years, said that the traders of the Shutki Palli are going through a hard time due to the decline in sale.
"The business started booming in December last year, but the newly imposed lockdown has crushed my hope of making up last year's loss," he said, adding, "Rather, I am afraid of another huge loss now."
Nikhil Das, a trader from Lalpur Shutki Palli, whose family has been involved in the business for three successive generations, said, "Last year, due to the pandemic, all the traders, big and small, had to count losses worth Tk12 crore."
"From December to March, we stocked dried fishes worth at least Tk150 crore. But now, if the lockdown is extended, all our investment is going to be lost," he said.
Dried fishes worth Tk150 to Tk200 crore are marketed from this village every year and hundreds of families are involved in the trade while there are around 300 traders there.
They collect various species of fish from different parts of the country and process them. The fishes are dried on a platform near the Meghna River in the village.
Apart from being marketed in different parts of the country, Lalpur's dried fishes are also exported to India. About 50% of the dried fish marketed from Lalpur is Putti, a small fish of local variety.
At present, the price of per kg dried Putti is Tk100-500, per kg Tengra Tk250-600, per kg Chanda Tk350-450, per kg Poinya Tk300-600, per kg Bujuri Tk 250-350 and per kg Tarabaim is Tk1,000-1,100.