The contribution of the fisheries sector to the country’s economy has gradually been shrinking for the last half a decade, which experts attributed to a notable plunge in sales in the years amid rocketing inflation.

Low production growth, tectonic rise in input costs, and shrinking export-based trade also contributed to the recent plunge, they added.

The Ministry of Finance Economic Review 2023 showed that the fisheries sector’s contribution to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) was reduced to 2.41 per cent in fiscal year (FY) 2023 from 2.70 per cent in FY’19.

Meanwhile, local sale of fishes also declined notably in the last one year amid a 40-50 per cent surge in prices, according to the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) and the Bangladesh Fish Development Corporation (BFDC).

Cultured fishes, a key source of protein for the commoners, became costlier by 30-40 per cent in 2022 than in 2021, an all-time rise in fish prices in a single year, according to official data.

Cultured rui, tilapia, pangas, koi and other commercially bred fish prices showed the record hike amid a skyrocketing trend in fish-feed prices, triggering a drop in production of a few species, said insiders.

Prices of cultured rui and katla shot up to Tk 350-450 a kg in 2022 depending on size, marking the highest 40 per cent increase in a year, said the TCB.

Tilapia prices soared to Tk 220-280 per kg in June 2023, from Tk 180-220 a kg in December 2022.

Pangas, a cultured fish consumed mostly by lower-income group or poor people, witnessed a 40 per cent hike and was sold at Tk 220-300 per kg in July 2023.

The hike in prices could hardly contribute to a higher growth, as sales declined notably, said Prof Dr Rashidul Hasan, a value chain expert.

He said the fisheries sector’s contribution to the GDP amounted to Tk 1.07 trillion in FY’23 from Tk 0.990 billion in FY’22, marking only 7.0 per cent hike, when fish prices witnessed 30-40 per cent surge as per the TCB data.

It means trading of the essential dropped notably during the period.

He also said production of pangas, the key fish for poor, declined by 20 per cent to 0.4 million tonnes in the last five years.

Purchasing power of millions of people dropped during the Covid pandemic and afterwards for the war in Europe that began in February 2022.

Dr Hasan opined that production growth of other cheaper fishes like tilapia and koi was also insignificant during the periods.

Overall production increased by 2.9 per cent in 2022, mainly led by catch of Hilsa in the Bay, whereas the growth was 6.0-7.0 per cent before 2020.

Haider Ali, a commercial fish producer at Trishal in Mymensingh, said fish-feed prices shot up by 75-80 per cent in the last two years, forcing pond owners to go for cultivating high-value fishes like pabda, golsha, ruhi, katla, etc.

Production cost increased by 50 per cent during the period, while sales dropped by 40 per cent, he added.

Export of fisheries including shrimp, crab, eel and other fishes has been continuously declining since FY’14, according to the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB).

In FY’14 the export was US$ 545 million, which continued to decline for the next seven years and dropped to $400 million in FY’21.

The export showed a hike in FY’22, but again declined in the just-ended FY’23.

“Export of our fisheries has been stuck at about $500 million for a decade. Our condition has even deteriorated now than that of a decade ago,” said Bangladesh Frozen Foods Exporters Association (BFFEA) President Amin Ullah.

He also said a decline in demand in Europe amid higher inflation followed by the Russia-Ukraine war was one of the key reasons behind the fall in export of shrimp and other frozen fishes.

Economist Prof Gazi M Jalil said: “We failed to brand our local crustaceans like Black Tiger Shrimp, harina or galda, and also couldn’t grab the low-priced global market led by vennami shrimp.”

Due to lack of quality feeds and infrastructure, the country almost lost its potential to export pangas, tilapia and processed fishes.

Branding of local shrimps through introducing good aquaculture practices, providing infrastructure to export pangas and tilapia, introducing processed fisheries industry, and managing fund for newer ventures for cheaper species like vennamai could be some solutions to boost the fisheries sector, he added.

Bangladesh produces 4.7 million tonnes of fish annually, of which it exports 60,000-70,000 tonnes, according to the Department of Fisheries (DoF).

The government has targeted to raise fish production to 8.5 million tonnes by 2041.

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