Shrimp hatcheries in Cox's Bazar and Satkhira have suffered losses worth around Tk100 crore in the last two months due to an increase of harmful bacteria in the waters of the Bay of Bengal.
Shrimp fry producers recently told The Business Standard that 59 hatcheries, which use seawater for fry production, have been hit by the Luminescent Bacteria (LB), commonly found in seawater.
Hatchery officials said if the government research centers had warned them in advance about the LB increase in the Bay of Bengal, they might not have suffered such losses.
They also said this might lead to a fall in shrimp exports this year as hatchlings for shrimp farmers were in short supply.
Harun-ur-Rashid (39), owner and chief technician of Cox's Bazar Hatchery in Satkhira, said, "There are 32 shrimp fry hatcheries on the Cox's Bazar coast and 27 in Satkhira. The hatchery uses seawater to produce fry, which is processed to produce millions of shrimp fry from mother shrimps."
"A hatchery needs to invest around Tk1 to 2.5 crores, once it is in production. Shrimp fry produced in the last two cycles were hit by the bacteria attack."
Shrimp fry was completely destroyed in some hatcheries, while some hatcheries suffered partially, he said.
The season of shrimp fry production in hatcheries started in January. The first cycle was well supplied to Satkhira, Jessore, and Khulna regions after producing hatchlings. But an increased amount of harmful bacteria was found in the seawater collected for production in the second and third cycles.
"Millions of fry are dying every day. Hatcheries are scared to go to fry production due to the bacteria attack," said Harun who also leases the 'Raisa and MariGold Hatchery' in Sonarpara of Cox's Bazar.
Speaking about the LB attack, Harun said, "These bacteria are very deadly. The presence of this bacterium increases when the level of salt in the seawater rises due to prolonged drought.
"Even after hundreds of attempts, the fries cannot be saved. If there is heavy rainfall, and salinity in the seawater returns to normal, the bacteria will go away automatically."
Imam Hasan, an employee of Balaka Hatchery in Sonarpara, said it cost the hatchery Tk2 crore to go into fry production in the third cycle. But the LB attack destroyed nearly all the fry, leaving the hatchery with staggering losses.
"We do not dare to go for fry production in the current cycle. Last year, we suffered losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic and this year it is a new bacterial attack. Everything is lost."
Mohammad Najibul Islam, secretary general of the Shrimp Hatchery Association of Bangladesh (Shab), said hatcheries take a number of steps to protect themselves from LB. But those measures are ineffective if the bacteria spreads widely.
"The government has two research centers called FRI and the Marine Research Institute. It is easier for hatcheries to take action if they are informed in advance of what kind of bacteria are on the coast and when those might attack. The bacterial attack on shrimp fry due to lack of information could have been averted."
Najibul said now it is not possible to produce shrimp fry until the bacterial contamination in the seawater is eliminated naturally.
"The demand for fry from shrimp farmers is high at this time. But as production is halted, farmers will not be able to get hatchlings," he said, adding that there might be a decrease in shrimp production and export this year.
According to Shab, 59 shrimp hatcheries produce about 2,160 crore fry in six cycles per season. About 800 crore shrimp fry were expected from the three ongoing circles, but so far it has been possible to supply only 200 crore fry in three cycles to the Satkhira, Jessore, and Khulna regions.