Established two decades ago, the fish markets in south Jatrabari are now considered to be Dhaka's largest fish hub, with daily trading fetching over Tk15 crore.
The markets, open seven days a week, cater to a vibrant fish supply chain that links several thousand sources across the country with almost one lakh wholesalers and retailers in Dhaka and its neighbouring districts.
Fish merchants say wholesalers and retailers can purchase fish from the hub at the cheapest rate.
It may be recalled that on October 10, 1997, 42 merchants established the Dhaka Matsya Bazar in south Jatrabari. In the last two decades, more than 2,000 merchandising enterprises have opened business there, establishing 16 more fish markets on nearly 10 decimals of land.
The markets are open from midnight and remain so for at least nine hours every day.
Soon after midnight, trucks laden with fish from across the country arrive at the markets. The trucks contain different species of fish, including fresh water varieties, farm-cultivated fish, and marine and imported frozen fish.
Rangamati, Cox's Bazaar, Chandpur, Noakhali, Patuakhali, Barishal, Satkhira, Khulna, Sunamganj, Kishoreganj, Mymensingh and Natore are among the major sources of fish for the Jatrabari fish hub. Besides, frozen fish is imported from some Southeast, South Asian and Middle Eastern countries.
Fish are unloaded from the trucks until dawn. Then the merchants sell them to wholesalers and retailers at auction.
Fish merchant Nurul Alam, owner of Nayeem Enterprise, sells more than 500 kilograms of fish, mostly carp varieties, every day.
"I buy from merchants of the northern districts. They maintain their own stocks of fish collected from local fish farmers. In the evening, they ship the fish to Dhaka as per requirements for the next day's stock," said Nurul, whose sales of fish rake in Tk1.5-2 lakh every day.
He gets a three percent commission on his sales.
Retailers' favourite choice
Bhola Fish supplies 200-500 kilograms of different varieties of fish every day to two outlets of the retail chain Agora.
Its manager Bharat Das told The Business Standard his company sells fish worth Tk20-25 lakh every week.
"Consumers want good quality fish and that is available here. Prices are also comparatively cheaper than in other markets," he said.
Kitchen market retailers from Jatrabari, Nayabazar, Khilgaon, Jurain, Shanir Akhra, Gandaria and neighbouring areas collect fish from the fish hub regularly.
Fish vendor Helal Uddin prefers collecting fish from the Jatrabari hub for two reasons.
"Many fish varieties arrive from different parts of the country. As the size of the market is big, the price is relatively low," said Helal, who sells more than 150 kilograms of fish in the space of three to four days a week, making Tk500 in profits per day on average.
The fish hub is also a favourite with Narayanganj-based fish retailers. They arrive in groups at midnight, purchase fish until dawn and return to Narayanganj by mini vans with their stocks of fish.
Farhad, a fish vendor in Chashara, said he buys at least 30kg fish from the hub every day.
"We can save Tk100-150 on every kilogram of fish," he added.
Big source of local employment
Nearly 20,000 people work at the fish hub, according to the fish merchants.
Each merchant employs at least five people to assist in overseeing the unloading of fish, auction, maintaining tally books, and collecting outstanding payments.
More than 1,500 porters work at the hub. Besides, there are small vendors who collect leftovers during loading and unloading, and sell them at cheaper prices to local shoppers.
Bashiruddin Ahmed, treasurer of Jatrabari Aroth Malik Samity (Jatrabari Warehouse Owners' Association), told The Business Standard, "A large number of people, including merchants, wholesalers, retailers, workers, ice sellers and transport workers, are directly dependent on this hub."
As Dwibyendu Roy Bhulu, one of the founding merchants of the fish hub, put it, around 1,000 tonnes of fish worth over Tk15 crore are unloaded in the markets every day.
He said wholesalers and retailers can purchase fish from the hub at cheap rates as the association of merchants does not entertain extortion and price manipulation.
However, a number of fish merchants alleged that extortion eats up a large amount of profits, tarnishing the image of the fish hub.
Unscrupulous people, mostly influential ones, extort money from transport workers, hampering fish shipments.
"Before fish is unloaded, each truck driver has to cough up Tk600-1,000 for the extortionists. Otherwise, the drivers are threatened with physical harm and damage to their vehicles. Similarly, drivers of pick-up vans and three-wheelers have to pay money while transporting fish for the wholesalers and retailers," said a merchant who preferred anonymity.
"Every day, at least 50 trucks and 150 pick-up vans are used in transporting fish to and from the hub," he said.
Mazharul Islam, Officer-in-Charge of Jatrabari Police Station, told The Business Standard that police would take action under the Speedy Trial Act if victims of extortion lodged complaints against specific offenders.