How much can one kilogram of fish swim bladder earn for you?
The question may sound absurd because buyers at fish markets often prefer to have "worthless" items such as the air bladder, fins etc. of large fish cut out and discarded.
Nevertheless, the question is worth asking, because what you may regard as trash is no longer a negligible item. One kilogram of swim bladders of Koral fish, locally known as Datina Koral, can earn you as much as Tk4,00,000 to Tk5,00,000!
Incredible? Not so. Bangladesh exports fish maw and fins to a number of countries, including Hong Kong, China, Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates in Asia, and earns around Tk200 crore per annum, according to the Bangladesh Fish-Maw Business Association.
These countries have a high demand for fish bladders and fins because they provide a rich source of collagen/gelatin that are good for the health. And they also add to the taste of the soup sipped by the people in these countries.
The fish maw business is a growing sector in Bangladesh. Businessmen say that the sector could thrive further if government incentives and easy bank loans were available for them.
In Chattogram, a total of 40 enterprises based on the fish maw business have been set up at Fishery Ghat on the bank of the Karnaphuli River. They employ around 300 people to collect fish bladders from fish markets and to process them.
Businessmen say that they can sell the swim bladders of Indian Salmon for up to Tk100,000 per kg. The swim bladder of the Indian Salmon has the second highest demand after that of the Datina Koral.
One kg of maw of the Pike eel (Muraenesox bagio) sells for Tk25,000-40,000, while the swim bladder of the Rui, Katla and other white fish sells for Tk5,000-6,000 a kg.
Mohammad Hasan, a fisherman in Chattogram, told The Business Standard, "If we can net a Datina Koral, we can win a jackpot. As soon as we reach port after fishing in the Bay of Bengal, buyers fight to buy its maw."
Banomali Das, a fish cutter at the Fishery Ghat, said he earns good money from selling the fish maw he collects while cutting fish.
"I keep fish swim bladders and fins aside. Every day, I collect around 200 grams of maw and sell it for Tk1,500-1,700 per kg."
He said he also earns Tk110 from each kg of fish fins.
Hedayat Ullah, the president of the Bangladesh Fish-Maw Business Association, told The Business Standard that there are 100 business enterprises involved in collecting and selling fish swim bladders in Bangladesh.
"The sector has huge potential because buyers from Hong Kong, China and Vietnam come in person to Bangladesh to buy fish air bladders," he said.
According to Chattogram Customs, Bangladesh exported 6,190 tonnes of fish swim bladders from 2015 to 2019 to Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, UAE, Indonesia, United States, Thailand and Japan.
The largest number of the consignments were exported to Hong Kong and China during this period.
There is a big international market for fish maw. In 2018, Norway was the top fish maw exporter in the world with 25.6 percent market share, followed by Russia (14.9 percent), Thailand (7.9 percent) and India (4.2 percent), according to the Tridge, a global online sourcing hub for data about different cross-border trades.
Bangladesh had only 1.2 percent share of the global market the same year, according to the Tridge.
When contacted, Tapan Das, the proprietor of the BT Foods, one of the leading fish maw exporters based in Chattogram, said, "I export fish swim bladders worth around $30,000 every month on average. It has a big demand in Hong Kong."
"We package and send the item abroad as air freight. We have three varieties of packets based on weight – 100kg, 150kg and 200kg," he added.
Tapan called upon the government to smoothen the certification process to help the business thrive.
"Moreover, if the government would give us necessary incentives and banks would provide loans, many people would be encouraged to get involved in this sector," he said.