China has stopped the import of crabs and eels from Bangladesh amid the coronavirus outbreak, severely impacting the business of fish farmers across the coastal region of Khulna.
Nearly 25,000 businessmen in this sector are stuck with a large number of unsold crabs and eels. Several fish farmers have told The Business Standard that some of them could go bankrupt if the situation persists.
Sources from the Department of Fisheries and the Export Promotion Bureau said that crab was listed as an export product in 1977. That year, Bangladesh earned only $2,000 from exporting crabs.
But in the first five months of the current fiscal year (FY2019-20), Bangladesh exported crabs worth Tk580 crore. The country also exported eels worth Tk1,785 crore in the same period.
More than 85 percent of those crabs and eels were exported to China.
Following the coronavirus outbreak, China has stopped importing crabs and eels from Bangladesh since January 25 this year.
Bangladesh Crab Suppliers' Association General Secretary Ajay Biswas said there are around 25,000 crab and eel farms – both small and large – throughout the Khulna region.
"Usually, those farms send around 25 tonnes of crab and 10 tonnes of eels to exporters in Dhaka each day. However, those unsold crabs and eels are now stockpiled at the farms. Around 80 percent of the stock has already died."
He added that fish farmers of the coastal region are facing a serious crisis because of their unsold stock.
"The sector is facing a loss of around Tk4 crore every day."
Meanwhile, with much disappointment in their voices, fish farmers said that they used to sell crabs for around Tk1,800-2,000 per kg, but now they cannot even sell those for Tk300 per kg.
Many farm owners have not been able to pay the salaries of their staff due to the crisis.
Mofizul Islam, a businessmen is Satkhira said, "We cannot export any crabs and eels to China because of the coronavirus outbreak. Exporters in Dhaka are not accepting any stock either. We are suffering from severe losses."
A fish farmer in Bagerhat, Sheikh Jamal said farms now have a large stock of unsold crabs and eels.
"They die naturally if not harvested within 25-41 days. A large number of export-quality crabs are dying in the farms of this region," Jamal added.
Bagerhat Crab Traders' Association General Secretary Sheikh Moniruzzaman said, "We are losing crabs and eels worth crores of taka after China stopped importing from us.
"Many people have invested in the business by borrowing from government and non-government sources. They cannot pay back the loans because of halted exports and wasted stock."
Bangladesh Live and Chilled Food Exporters Association member and exporter Mehedi Hasan said that during the Chinese New Year celebration, demand for crabs in that country usually increase from around 35 tonnes to 50 tonnes per day.
But, export shipments to China remains halted due to the coronavirus outbreak.
"The markets of Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan have also been negatively impacted by the crisis, as we are not able to export crabs and eels to those destinations either. The price of crabs and eels have gone down in the local market too."
He added that exporters have suffered losses amounting to Tk150 crore to Tk200 crore in the last month.
"The export of live crabs and eels are regulated by our headquarters in Dhaka. The Khulna office has no data regarding this issue. I cannot comment any further on the matter," said Khulna Export Promotion Bureau Director Alamgir Siddiquee.
China is the world's second-largest importer of lobsters and crabs. Last year, China imported 12,600 tonnes of lobsters from across the globe, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.