Fishing trawlers are making their return to the southern coastal ports of Barisal, their decks abundant with ilish from the deep sea. However, despite the plentiful catch, prices remain out of reach for the middle class.
Local coastal fishermen are elated with their hauls. However, stakeholders at kitchen markets, especially in the southern region’s divisional and district headquarters, are dismayed by the scarcity of fresh ilish from local rivers and the steep prices of sea-caught varieties netted over a week ago.
While visiting the Alipur-Mahipur fishing markets on the Kuakata coast on Saturday, Dhaka Tribune correspondent found the markets overflowing with ilish that had been caught between four to eight days prior and kept fresh with ice.
As soon as the trawlers laden with ilish arrive at the coastal port markets, workers fervently sort the catch by size and weight.
The fish are then repacked with ice for distribution to various parts of the country via road and river transport.
Sources from fish landing centres have shared the current ilish rates: jatka (ilish fry less than nine inches) at Tk21,000 per mound, 600-700 gram ilish at Tk28,000, 800-900 grams at Tk36,000, and those weighing over 1kg range from Tk50,000 to Tk70,000.
Fishermen may be content with the going rates, but wholesale buyers often report losses due to elevated labour costs, ice prices, and the expenses related to processing, packaging, and transport, states Golam Mustafa, a leader of the fish trading association.
Kalapara Upazila Fisheries Officer Apu Saha explained that alterations in ilish migratory routes, resulting from development works near coastal channels, have compelled fishermen to venture further out to sea, incurring higher costs.
Kamrul Islam, Patuakhali district fisheries officer, however, remained optimistic, anticipating that the recent 65-day coastal fishing ban would result in more abundant catches soon.
He also expected ilish to become more available in coastal rivers as mature fish move there to spawn.
Mizan Majhi, the owner of the FB Bhai Bhai fishing trawler from Noakhali district, reported a remarkable catch of 96 maunds of ilish near the Payra port area.
Upon his return, his catch fetched him Tk39.70 lakh.
Joynal Majhi, a fisherman from the Kutubdia area of Cox’s Bazar, recounted his journey a week ago with 17 other fishermen aboard the FB Tasnia Tiha.
After casting their nets near the Rangabali upazila of Patuakhali district, they managed to haul in over 90 maunds of ilish, which was auctioned at Akon Fish Firm for Tk65,000 per maund.