Shrimp farming is experiencing numerous problems in Khulna, a southern district of Bangladesh. The yield was poor this season owing to viral infections and drought. Most of the farmers are also incurring a loss because the price of shrimp is comparatively low this season.
Shrimp farmers and depot owners in the Khulna coastal region also accuse frozen food entrepreneurs of allegedly plotting to destabilise the market.
Viral infections and drought affected most of the shrimp enclosures in the April-May period, the onset of this year's farming season. A huge quantity of Bagda shrimp died in enclosures from Sarankhola to Shyamnagar Upazila on the Khulna coastal belt, which slashed the total yield in the end.
Shrimp fry collection at coastal farms begins from March. But the mercury rose to above 40 degrees Celsius this year, helping the virus attack take a dangerous turn. Shyamnagar shrimp farmer Hemanta Kumar Mandal said he invested Tk10 lakh on 90 bighas of land. His fears throughout the season have become valid because he has been able to earn only Tk8 lakh so far.
Frequent fluctuations in temperature, drought or heavy rain can affect shrimp farming. All those factors were present this season and spoiled the yield.
Like Hemanta, shrimp farmers Syamol Kumar Bairagi, Prakash Chandra Mandal, Abu Sayeed and Prabhash Chandra Mandal in Shyamnagar Upazila have also been affected by the adverse changes this season.
In addition to poor yield, the farmers said low market price this year has put them in deeper trouble. Rampal Upazila shrimp farmer Ruhul Amin said the price of shrimp is Tk950 per kilogram this year, which is very low compared to that in previous years.
In the meantime, Dacope Upazila farmer Aslam Sheikh said this season his enclosures did not get sufficient saline water, which is a must for shrimp cultivation. Moreover, he had to buy shrimp fry at comparatively higher prices this year.
Cox's Bazar hatcheries sold shrimp fry for Tk300 to Tk500 per thousand this year. Whereas, local fry from the Shibsa and the Pasur rivers in Khulna sold for Tk900 to Tk1,000 per thousand — in both cases the price is Tk200 higher than in the previous year.
The general secretary of Rampal's Foyla Bazar Depot Owners Association, Moniruzzaman Mallick, said the 15 warehouses at the local bazaar used to get a supply of 30 maunds of shrimp per day last year. This has dropped to only 20 maunds nowadays.
Small shrimp is being sold for Tk480 per kilogram at the bazaar this year, down from Tk 550 per kilogram last year. The price of large shrimp has dropped from Tk1050 per kilogram last year to Tk95o this season. Moniruzzaman blamed syndicates of frozen food entrepreneurs for the drop in shrimp prices in July-August this year.
However, Humayun Kabir, a former Director of the Bangladesh Frozen Food Exporters Association refuted the allegations. He said shrimp size has reduced because farms are growing them twice a year.
He said, "They used to yield once a year," and added, "Currently the international price for bigger sized shrimp is $8-9, while the smaller ones are $3-4."
Khulna Fisheries Officer Abu Sayeed said this year's shrimp production is around 28,558 metric tonnes. It is low because of adverse weather conditions in Batiaghata, Dacope, Paikgacha and Koyra Upazilas in Khulna — the heartland of Bangladesh's aquaculture economy. Shrimp production was negatively affected in five farms among the 65 farms in Batiaghata alone.
Bangladeshi frozen fish items go to the USA and to European Union countries including Belgium, Germany and Italy. Bangladesh exported frozen food worth around Tk4,700 crore in the last fiscal year.