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Constraints to expanded fish production have been identified, reviewed and placed in the context of problem areas which can and should be resolved to realise the available potentials. Similarly, the resource base for the sector where these constraints are found has also been analysed. Can the resource base support expanded fish production ? If so, what opportunities are there which can potentially be harnessed to achieve greater output ?

In other words, what specific potential fisheries are there or which still remain to be developed ? As Rahman (1989) so succinctly pointed out, the natural land-water interface and interactive system offer excellent potentials for inland water capture and culture fisheries if properly managed. While management is important and crucial, it is not the only input required. Other equally important inputs are also needed.

While the natural resource (aquatic) system potentials are physically present, the scope for realising these potentials is quite limited without further capital investments. This is because the basic resource base has either been overfished, overused, even plundered or impaired through lack of management. Considerable rehabilitation work is needed to restore the integrity of the resource system.

With the completion of extensive embankments, dykes and polders to control and manage the annual floods along the coast and the three main river basins (Pabna, Meghna and Jamuna) and numerous other FCDI/FCD project areas, water control and management for agriculture and fisheries are greatly improved. As a result, these flood-protected areas are now relatively less risky. This applies especially to fish ponds. Before these FCDI/FCD structures were constructed, these fish ponds were risky because they were vulnerable to flooding and overflow.

It is because of this that fish pond owners and producers were reluctant to invest in more intensive systems and techniques of fish production.

Until recently, except for limited open water fish stocking programmes, the waters within these FCDI/FCD areas are not accessible for planned fisheries development. However, in 1989 a Memorandum of Understanding between the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), Ministry of Irrigation, Flood Control and Drainage (MIFCD) and the Department of Fisheries (DOF), Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock (MFL) was concluded whereby 17 out of more than 200 FCDI/FCD project areas have been entrusted to the DOF for fisheries production. These 17 project areas are:

aa.   Chandpur Irrigation Project (Laskhipur, Chandpur)

bb.   Muhuri Irrigation Project (Feni)

cc.   Meghna-Dhonagoda Irrigation Project (Chandpur)

dd.   Teesta Embankment Project (Nilphamari-Rangpur-Bogra-Dinajpur-Joypurhat-Gaibandah-Lalmonirhat)

ee.   Pabna Irrigation Project (Pabna-Sirajganj)

ff.   Monu River Project (Moulvibazar)

gg.   G.K Project (Kushtia-Chuadanga-Magura-Jhenidah)

hh.   Karnafuli Irrigation Project (Chittagong)

ii.   Barisal Irrigation Project (Barisal)

jj.   Satla Bagda Flood Control and Irrigation Project (Barisal)

kk.   Chalan Beel Polder D Project (Rajshahi)

ll.   Hyil Haor (Sylhet)

mm.   Bhrammaputra South Flood Control Embankment Project (Gaibandah-Rangpur-Sirajganj)

nn.   DND Project (Dhaka-Narayanganj-Dema)

oo.   Narayanganj Narshingdi Project (Narayanganj-Narshingdi)

pp.   Rupganj Project (Dhaka)

qq.   Coastal Embankment Project (Coastal Districts - 96 sites)

Given such vast water potentials for fisheries development, what opportunities present themselves in view of presently known technology available locally and abroad as well as the labour force and manpower resources found in the country ? To realise such opportunities, what conditions must be present and steps to be instituted to fully transform them into greater national output and income ?

Like in many other developing countries, Bangladesh policy-makers and planners including their external advisors have been “harping” on the potentials and opportunities of the fisheries sector, particularly inland open water fisheries. Surprisingly, less recognition is given to fish culture or culture-based fisheries. Until recently, even the marine sector received scant attention (Everett, et al, 1985). Except for one or two exceptions, these potentials and opportunities remain potentials and opportunities. They continue to be unrealised. This is in spite of at least three decades of effort to develop such potentials and opportunities.

As a result, the impact or benefit expected, from such “potentials and opportunities” is minimal or not experienced at all. As a matter of fact, harvests from inland open waters have actually declined. Rahman (1990) reports that such harvests decline by about 40,000 tons during the Third Five Year Plan (1985– 1990). It is estimated that the share of the capture inland open water fisheries has been declining from 62.6 to 59.8 to 55.7 to 52.9 % since 1983/84.

The declining catch from the inland open waters is mainly due to overfishing (too many fishermen after too few fish) and decrease in population recruitment stemming from the extensive and massive flood control, irrigation and drainage projects. Extensive dykes and embankments have obstructed fish migration and recruitment.

Clearly, such potentials and opportunities have not been “suitably” harnessed. In some circles (perhaps cynically), it has even been suggested that all those public monies for fisheries development (with five year plan budgetary outlay from Tk50–750 crore or US$ 14–217 million) could have been placed into a high yielding fixed deposit account to earn interests and the fisheries will perform in much the same way as we find them today. This is certainly food for thought.

An in-depth review of the potentials and opportunities available along with the factors inhibiting the realisation of the potentials, the latter elaborated earlier will hopefully point policy-makers and planners in the right direction.

There seems to be a lack of emphasis on innovative ideas like deep water fish culture, integrated fish farming, pen and cage culture, seafarming, provision of alternative fish or non-fish related employment or income-generating opportunities to attract fishermen out of the overcrowded artisanal fisheries, fish habitat improvement and aggregating devices at the pre-harvest level and improved primary handling of fish like salting and drying, icing, chilling and freezing, and secondary processing of high value and value-added products like surimi manufacture and fish canning at the post-harvest level.

Many of these activities can be designed on a group farming basis as well as on a contract farming or production arrangement. With advanced planning and careful implementation, it is conceivable that many of the 85,650 villages scattered all across the country can be organised as fish production units. Even though these villagers have limited access to or little or no command over the available resources, they can be mobilised and organised if provided with the necessary training and government assistance.


Fish seed and its ready availability where and when needed is crucial to greater fish production. Without adequate supply of seeds, production cannot be efficiently carried out. Although fish fry can be produced in large quantities, both by the private sector and government hatcheries or fish seed multiplication farms the supply of fingerlings is increasingly a real constraint to expanded fish production in the country.

Thus, a highly potential area for further development and investment is fingerling production. Each year, more than 1,000 million fish seeds are required. At present, only an estimated 500 million 2.5–5.0 cm fingerlings are produced from all the different sources - wild and artificial (hatchery-produced). There is thus a 50 % or 500 million shortfall in demand of 1,000 million seeds. This annual seeds requirement has not even taken into account the requirement for open water stocking and enhancement programme under the different projects like the World Bank Third Fisheries Project and the Asian Development Second Aquaculture Project.

As an integral part of pond development management, the Marr Mission (1985) recommended that the production of 1.0–1.5 inch fingerlings be completely taken over by the private sector.

At present, wild seed still comprises from 65–85 % of the total seed requirement for aquaculture and open water stocking. For shrimp farming, it is entirely from Nature. The shrimp hatcheries constructed so far have not been able to produce as planned. For inland open water stocking or liberation, they still have to be largely supplied from wild caught seed which have been nursed in the fish seed multiplication farms. Recently, however, the country's 6 main fish hatcheries:

aa) Central Hatchery of Baor Development Project, Jhenidah
bb) Raipur Fish Hatchery and Training Centre, Raipur
cc) Hatchery of Fisheries Research Institute, Mymensingh
dd) Hatchery of Riverine Fisheries Research Institute, Chandpur
ee) Gulshan Lake Hatchery, Gulshan
ff) Mini Hatcheries at Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna and Rajshahi

and other fish seed multiplication farms as well as private hatcheries or fish seed multiplication farms have been able to supply artificially- or hatchery-produced fry and fingerlings for this purpose (from now on, the word “hatchery/ies” will also include fish seed multiplication farms).

In 1989, about 1.64 billion fry are produced, distributed as follows: 40 million or 2 % by the public sector hatcheries and 1.60 billion or 98 % (equivalent to 22,000 kg of spawn and 1 kg of spawn can give about 400,000 fry) by the private sector hatcheries. In 1989, the fry requirement is reportedly estimated at about 1.52 billion fry. Although there is a surplus of about 120 million fry, the supply of large fingerlings, about 10 gm size is inadequate. This is because the cost of nursing and raising fry to fingerlings is uneconomical given the price of fingerlings prevailing in the local market.

Much more fingerlings are thus clearly required to underpin the programmes of the large fisheries projects. The estimated fry requirement is 2.25 billion fry or 562.5 million fingerlings per year respectively. This is 0.61 billion fry or 152.5 million fingerlings short of the total requirement or 37 % short.

Out of the 6 hatcheries and about 104 fish seed multiplication farms in the country (distributed as follows: 83 remaining with the Department of Fisheries, 20 handed over to Grameen Bank and 1 to Fisheries Research Institute), only 2–3 hatcheries and about 50 fish seed multiplication farms are respectively fully operational. The others are in various stages of disrepair and not fully functional. Even so, it is estimated that only 30 % of the total installed hatchery capacity of those in operation is currently being utilised.

There is thus excess capacity in the fish seed multiplication subsector. No additional hatcheries are needed or needs to be constructed.

Loss through high mortality due to poor handling during transport is another problem which has not been taken into account and/or adequately addressed. Such loss can be reduced through minimum effort and investment but is not reflected in the new Plan. This is another potential area for productive investment. Table 8 shows where fish seeds are required.

Table 8. Annual Fry and Fingerling Requirements

Water Body/Project NameArea of Water Body (Ha)Proposed Quantity
(Million Pieces)
A. Third Fisheries Project100000     300.00 fng
  or 1200.00 fry
B. Second Aquaculture Project1600  800.00 fry
  or 200.00 fng
C. Integrated Fisheries Development Project(5000)  (12.50) fng
  or (50.00) fry
i. Dakatia River and Borrow Pits, Chandpur20005.00 fng
ii. Muhuri River, Feni20005.00 fng
iii. Chunar River, Satkhira 5001.25 fng
iv. Gohala River, Sirajganj 5001.25 fng
D. Open Water Stocking Programme
(300 selected locations)
 50.00 fng
 or 200.00 fry
TOTAL 2250.00 fry

(Data and estimation provided by Nazrul Islam, Department of Fisheries)

Further, broodstock number and condition as found in many government hatcheries are also much to be desired. Of those available, they are generally not in their prime conditions. While it is true that planning is future-oriented, there is little or no indication that there already exists sufficient broodstock, let alone high quality parent stock from which to start with and build upon to produce the large quantities of fry/fingerlings required under the new Plan.

No broodstock development programme is yet in place. Even the fish spawn produced are reportedly weak and lack vigour. As presently practised, broodstock are purchased at the beginning of the short June-August breeding season. Breeding in fact can start much earlier in February if broodstock are available with the help of hormonal manipulation and hypophysation. As seed supply is critical in the development of the country's fisheries, it is essential that a comprehensive broodstock development programme be immediately organised and carried out.

But more fundamentally, of all the commercial valuable food fish found in the country, how many of these species can be produced under controlled or artificial conditions with ease ? Similarly, for those of export potential, how many species can be bred with ease ? For certain species like shrimp (high export potential) which have not been very successfully spawned in captivity in Bangladesh by local technicians, would it not be less expensive to allow their import from the neighbouring countries like Thailand ? On a trial and limited basis for commercial purposes ?

The potential impact of allowing the import of seeds into the country for stocking may help the sector to shorten the time frame for Bangladesh to take off in higher fish production of export quality.

Thailand, Bangladesh's neighbour whose fisheries is already one of Asia's most successful stories allows the import of both fish spawn (e.g. sea bass, Lates calcarifer) and fry/fingerlings (e.g grouper, Epinephelus sp) and shellfish spat (e.g cockle, Anadara granosa) for commercial purposes without undue restrictions. Only safety and health measures to quarantine them is ensured to prevent the entry of fish disease organisms. Bear in mind that such import is not for experimental but for commercial purposes.

The government should study the situation and allow, nay even encourage the import of fish seeds into the country for commercial purposes like high quality shrimp post-larvae which can be supplied relatively in expensively from Thailand. Many other countries like Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia do. Bangladesh's experience in the import of fish seed so far is for experimental or testing purposes (e.g African catfish, Clarias gariepinus or also known as Clarias lazera and Pangasius catfish, Pangasius sutchi from Thailand). Feedback from this activity suggests that the introduction is successful and commercial prospects are bright.


There is a growing concern that the national drive to produce fish for export to earn foreign exchange is increasingly at the expense of fish production for domestic consumption. Since shrimp became the prima donna of the country's export drive to earn the much needed foreign exchange, the latter programme (i.e producing fish for local consumption) appears to receive less attention and not as well focused. To compound this fear further, the expected output and benefit from public stocking of inland open waters are not obvious or readily seen either in the statistics or to the public eye.

The impact of such public expenditures on open water stocking is yet to be quantified. For the present, it is widely thought of as not economic use of scarce public funds, especially considering that public stocking of inland open waters constitutes almost a third of the fisheries budget or Tk250 crore (US$72).

Growth in domestic aggregate demand in general is not accompanied by a corresponding growth in domestic production, especially in greater and more efficient utilisation of the country's available production capacity in the fisheries sector. In other words, more fish can be produced with the existing available capacity. There is no need to invest in additional capacity.

If such effort is not immediately taken up, the country may have to meet the supply deficit by imports which Bangladesh can ill-afford. This implies that the country has to find and work out the means to produce more fish and urgently. In the next plan, more and greater use of the domestic productive capacity will be severely tested since government expenditures for such investments will be cut back due to recent revenue shortfall. As such, the private sector will have to play an increasing role in not only greatly increasing the use of the existing production capacity but also building new capacity to boost output.

5.3.1 Motivating Fish Production for Low-Income Consumers

The most urgent and crucial task facing policy-makers and planners is to produce more fish for poor or low-income groups. This calls for the production of high volume and low value fish species. In this respect, the potential fisheries which can and should be quickly developed and further consolidated and expanded are culture-based fisheries in fish ponds, roadside ditches- and borrowpit-converted ponds, drainage canals and such similar water bodies.

The species to be reared have to be fast growing, hardy and require low cost inputs. Obviously, this rules out carnivorous species, especially those species requiring high protein and high energy diet like fishmeal-based feeds. Such species should preferably be herbivorous species such as puti (Puntius sp), grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella), snakeskin gouramy (Trichogaster pectoralis), gurame (Osphronemus gouramy) and tilapia (Tilapia nilotica).

To further economise on the cost of production, integrated fish farming can be profitably employed where waste and by-products from agriculture and food industries can be recycled as inputs into the production system. In this respect, livestock production can be integrated into fish farming. Chicken-fish, duck-fish, cattle-fish, small ruminant (goat and rabbit)-fish or some combinations of these have been widely practised elsewhere like in China and Thailand.

This is now being taken up on a small scale and its further expansion is being proposed in a project, entitled “Integrated Fisheries Development in FCDI/FCD Projects and Other Water Bodies”.

5.3.2 Wild Stock Fisheries Enhancement and Management

Another species with high potential for further development and definitely worthy of greater effort in its propagation is the hilsa fishery. At present, very little is known about this fish, its biology, distribution, feeding habits, reproductive physiology, migratory behaviour and patterns.

In the face of less than full information on this fish, the viable option available to enhance and manage this fishery is to ban the use of current net or jal as well as build fish passages and ? ladders to facilitate their annual migratory return to their spawning grounds. Further, gravid females should be returned to the waters in order not to deny them their first round breeding. Hilsa caught and marketed today have well developed and ripe ovaries (roe), ready to spawn and release million of eggs into the water.

Further, as natural recruitment into the existing water bodies of the country's FCDI/FCD project areas is greatly diminished due to the construction of hundreds of kilometers of dykes, embankments and levees which act as barriers, artificial fish stock enhancement is clearly needed to build up the resident fish population. At present, the carrying capacity of these waters is not fully utilised because of the decline in natural recruitment.

Natural recruitment is only minimally taking place through the exchange of water between the main rivers and the project areas during pumping through the pump stations and water regulatory station inlets/outlets. Although the government has periodically stocked or liberated advanced fingerlings into some of these selected water bodies, much more need to be done. This is because the catch per unit effort of smallscale non-motorised boat has declined so dratically that it is now only about 2.6 kg/boat/day.

As a result, the fishing communities living either within or adjacent to these FCDI/FCD project areas, especially the poor smallscale fishermen who are already among the poorest segment of the country's population are further impoverised.

In addition to encouraging these poor fishermen to participate in settled fisheries activities like fish farming (e.g in fish pens), effort should also be directed to replenish and build up the wild stock fisheries in these waters through selective intensive open water stocking and effective fisheries management and conservation measures.

For this purpose, one baor or beel or dighi or haor from those available within the project area can be selected and manage it for the fishing community as a demonstration unit. The demonstration baor or beel or dighi or haor will be stocked with advanced fingerlings. At the same time, the fishermen will be mobilised and organised into a group fishing unit.

These fishermen can be trained in inland open water fisheries management and conservation methods and techniques. Specifically, the training can help to create awareness on the tragedy of the commons, that is open access and common property resource exploitation will lead to overfishing if no management and conservation measures are adopted.

The government can lease the fishing rights to the demonstration baor or beel or dighi or haor on a renewable yearly basis. A fisheries management committee can be constituted from among the members of the fishing group unit. This committee will decide on the stocking and harvesting schedule of the demonstration baor or beel or dighi or haor.

Many other fisheries management and enhancement measures can be proposed but suffice to say that the few proposed above if and when properly enforced can go a long way in ensuring its sustainable stock size and integrity. This will increase output in the long run. Such a programme of management and enhancement is now being put together. It is called the “Support Services for the Development, Management and Conservation of Open Water Fisheries in Bangladesh”.

This fisheries surveillance and management programme will not only benefit the hilsa fishery alone but other fisheries as well. It is conservatively projected that an additional output of 75,000 tons of fish can be expected at the terminal (5th) year of the proposed “Support Services” project. At Tk40/kg, this will return more than Tk300 crore to the nation.

5.3.3 Rice-Fish Culture

Another highly potential fisheries which has not been fully exploited is rice-fish culture or rice-fish culture integrated with livestock. In the 1960s, Coche (1967) estimated that less than 1 % of the irrigated padi fields in Southeast Asia was used to culture fish. About three decades later, Edwards and associates (1988) found that very little has changed since Coche's estimates. The International Rice Commission recently pointed out the immense opportunities of integrating irrigated rice cultivation with fish culture.

Along this line, an often overlooked consideration in rice cultivation is that 1 ton of rice requires about 4,000 tons of water. Thus, the technical and economic efficiency of the use of such large volume of water can be significantly increased by growing fish in such water.

By 1990, Bangladesh will have about 2.11 million ha of irrigated padi fields, all of which are eminently suited for rice-fish culture. Two components of this integrated fish farming system can be planned and designed: production of either market- or table-sized fish, and fingerlings as aquaculture or open water liberation stocking materials. For Bangladesh, the concern on pollution from the widespread use of agro-chemicals affecting rice-fish culture is not yet a major consideration in many padi growing areas. Besides, the government with the support of bilateral and multilateral development partner agencies has taken the necessary steps to introduce integrated pest management system which applies sound ecological principles to pest control and eradication.

As the padi fields in Bangladesh are generally privately-owned, problems associated with its use for rice-fish-livestock integrated farming or some variations of this combination would be quite easily organised and managed. Padi fields in Bangladesh are definitely suited for higher output of rice, fish and livestock.

However, before this activity can be initiated, effort must be exerted to create awareness on the harmful effects of chemical pest control means.

5.3.4 Integrated Fish Farming

Taking rice-fish culture to its logical conclusion, that is expanding on the opportunities available for higher production and productivity from the land-water interface cultivation system or its land-water use capability, it is but a logical next step to integrate fish culture with crop and livestock farming. Once this integration occurs, the limits of the human imagination is the only constraint which will limit the types and variety of integrated production.

In Bangladesh, integrated fish farming although known is not widely practised. There are definite sociocultural taboos and reasons for the lack of more widespread adoption of this highly economical system of integrated “fish” production. This is more an educational problem than a sociocultural taboo because in all the 68,000 villages spread across the country, not all the approximately 1.3 million ponds are utilised as a source of water for drinking, cooking and bathing purposes. About 54 % of these ponds are either culturable or derelict; they are presently not being used for any other purposes. Bringing them into use will not only reduce mosquito breeding and spread of diseases but will lead to greater national output of fish and income.

Besides, there are also literally hundreds of drainage and irrigation canals, roadside ditches and borrow pits which can be used and are now being re-excavated/rehabilitated on a limited scale for integrated fish farming. Two such systems involving chicken-fish-duck farming have recently been started in the Meghna-Dhonagoda Irrigation Project (MDIP). These initial efforts in MDIP can be used as effective t and v extension learning tools for greater adoption in the rest of the country, especially within the 17 FCDI/FCD projects which the Bangladesh Water Development Board has handed to the Department of Fisheries for fish production.

Government researchers and extension agents should resist from conducting more trails on integrated fish farming on their research experimental stations and just leave the security and comfort of their office to demonstrate these well-tested systems to the villagers on their plot of land.

5.3.5 Smallscale Marine Fisheries

As there already exists overcapacity in the smallscale marine coastal fisheries arising from overcrowding (recall that fisheries is the employment of last resort), the government should begin to rationalise the exploitation of this fisheries, especially in the inshore and nearshore waters. This excess capacity should be drawn down by providing either non-fishing or fish-related employment and income-generating opportunities to attract interested fishermen out of the fisheries.

To determine the appropriate employment and income-generating opportunities which would have to be developed to attract these fishermen away or out of the fisheries, the government should conduct a study to analyse the background, occupational skills and employment and geographical mobility of these fishermen, new production and market opportunities which have so far not been tapped and local resource availability, especially non-fisheries resources.

For non-fisheries related employment and income-generating opportunities, the promising projects are in:

  1. small and large livestock (chicken, duck, goat, lamb, cattle and buffalo) rearing based on the Malaysian pawah system where the government will provide the initial stock (nucleus) of a few animals. When young ones are produced, the participating fisherman will turn over a pre-determined number of animals to the government livestock bank. The government will in turn distribute these animals to more interested fishermen, thus increasing the number of participants. This livestock rearing interest is in fact uncovered by the FAO Bay of Bengal Programme.

  2. contract sewing of pre-cut garment on a piece rate basis by the womenfolk of the fishing community which the country already has a wealth of experience. Garment is now the second largest national export earner.

  3. coconut coir rope making which is now a successful cottage industry venture in Sri Lanka. Other similar cottage industry and handicraft work such as furniture and wood carving, ceramic and pottery manufacture can be planned.

As for fish- or fishing-related alternative employment or income-generating opportunities, some highly rated opportunities based on the non-capture mode of production include but are not necessarily limited to the following:

  1. crab (Scylla serrata) fattening for the lucrative export markets in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. There are now in the country various foreign nationals who are exporting such crabs to these markets based on collection from the wild.

  2. smallscale seafarming activities like cockle (Anadara granosa) and mussel (Perna viridis and Mytilus edulis)

  3. culture and seaweed (Gracilaria and Eucheuma sp) farming. As the local population has no tradition in eating or using these shellfish products and seaweed in their daily lives, their outputs have to be exported. As markets already exist for these products, it is only a matter of actively capturing a share of this market by competitive pricing.

  4. collection, nursing and rearing of marine shrimp and fish fry and fingerlings. For the foreseeable future, the supply of marine shrimp postlarvae to stock the expanding area under shrimp production in the coastal polders will have to come from the natural wild fishery. This is because the shrimp hatcheries constructed to date have not been able to produce as planned.

  5. backyard or homestead brackishwater or freshwater fish farming to produce fish for the home and the local market whenever there is a production surplus. This can be combined with backyard fruit and vegetable gardening. Along this line, the government can initiate a fruit tree rehabilitation and replanting scheme where free seedlings of improved fruit varieties can be distributed.

There are obviously many other similar activities which can be planned. Suffice to say that the target community needs to be consulted and their aspirations and interests determined through a study such as the geographical and occupational mobility study proposed above. To ensure the success of the programme to attract these fishermen out of the fisheries, it is critical to secure their active involvement, cooperation and participation in the decision-making from the beginning. In other words, they need to feel “involved” and the government should involve them in determining what they want for themselves.

5.3.6 Production of High Value Low Volume Species

Just as effort are made to motivate production for low income or poor consumers, appropriate effort must also be directed to produce fish for certain up-market segment of the population. There exists in the country a growing middle and upper class population with “known” disposable income which remains to be tapped for, among others quality foods like seafoods. This select or specialty seafood market has not been fully developed yet; only a few such establishments have sprung up in the last year or so.

However, the pricing strategy of these select seafood market outlets do not draw repeat sales or customers. This is partly due to the wide price differential between the prices in the wet market and these outlets. Besides, product freshness and quality control are variable. Although they carry products which have an export market like bagda and golda chingri or shrimp (Penaeus monodon and Macrobrachium rosenbergii), ruhi (Labeo rohita) and bhetki or seabass (Lates calcarifer), it is clearly not in their interest to charge Tokyo prices.


An examination of the fisheries exports from Bangladesh shows that there is tremendous scope to step up exports by capitalising on the comparative advantage which the country presently enjoys and also by diversifying the product-mix and species-mix of its export. The industrial organisational structure of the Bangladeshi fisheries export sector is not only quite competitive in the world market, it can be further strengthened through conscious planning. The potential exists for further development, especially for certain species like marine shrimp and hilsa.

The 1988/1989 export of fisheries amounted to Tk471 crore or US$136.6 million. Of this, shrimp accounted for 81 % (US$110.8 million) of the total value of exports distributed as follows: cultured shrimp 47 %, trawler catch 16 % and other sources 37 %. By other sources is meant the catch from smallscale artisanal fishermen, among others. Even in physical terms, shrimp export is still dominant, accounting for 71 % of the total volume exported.

Fortunately for the country, the domestic resource cost of shrimp production is the bigger share of total production cost or conversely, the foreign content is low. There is thus no foreign exchange involved which the country can ill-afford to spare (for the time being). This is because farmed shrimp is not fed expensive imported shrimp feeds or fishmeal-based diet.

In Bangladesh, shrimp is still cultured on an extensive or semi-intensive level. Per unit (kg) production cost is therefore much lower for these two systems compared to the intensive and super-intensive systems found in other countries like Thailand, Taiwan, Province of China. It costs less than Tk70 or US$2 to produce a kilogramme of shrimp in Bangladesh. In Taiwan, this costs at least US$3.50–4.50/kg. Comparable figures for Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are respectively Baht100 (US$3.90), M$16.00 (US$5.90), Rp8,000 (US$4.44) and Peso110 (US$5.00) per kilogramme.

Given current world shrimp market situation, Bangladesh has a distinct advantage over other countries in shrimp export competition. Among all the shrimp producing countries in the region cited above, Indonesia comes closest to being a competitor. Bangladesh shrimp producers should not be encouraged to adopt intensive production methods. This is because firstly, the local producers do not yet have the necessary skills and knowledge to do so.

Secondly, there is no local livestock feed industry to talk of, let alone a shrimp feed factory. Even if there is a local livestock feed industry, it is still a fledgeling one and will not have the interest nor the capability to venture into shrimp feed manufacture. This implies that they have to be imported. There is now one shrimp feed manufacturing plant in the country but is still facing start-up problems.

Besides the higher production costs involved, intensive shrimp farming has adverse effects on the fragile (coastal) ecosystem. Taiwan, Province of China, Thailand and to an extent the Philippines have either experienced or are already experiencing severe environmental degradation (e.g. water pollution causing serious disease outbreak and ground water depletion giving rise to salt water intrusion inland). In fact, the Taiwanese shrimp industry collapsed three years ago and is still trying to recover.

Thirdly, the supply of shrimp postlarvae is still heavily dependent on the natural or wild fisheries. There is similarly no shrimp hatchery industry to talk of in Bangladesh. The few shrimp hatcheries which have recently been constructed are still faced with start-up problems. They continue to depend on foreign technicians to operate them.

Even if world shrimp prices pick up again which is just taking place now, local producers can ill-afford to intensify production. This is because there is no production basis for it as seen above. Importing shrimp feeds will drain the foreign exchange reserve of the country further. Without readily available cheap hatchery-produced postlarvae and inexpensively-priced high quality feeds, production intensification is not financially viable (even though it may be argued that the area already under production can warrant the switch to intensive production from extensive or semi-intensive systems).

By resorting to import expensive shrimp feed to intensify production, the present favourable domestic resource cost component of the existing extensive and semi-intensive systems will suffer. Although export revenues will increase as a result of higher output and export, producer profit margins will shrink. In addition, the labour absorption capacity of intensive shrimp farming being relatively low in comparison to extensive or semi-intensive systems, will displace labour in the sector. This will further aggravate the unemployment situation in the country in general and in the coastal rural areas in particular. Unemployment is already a serious problem.

Similarly, trawled shrimp and shrimp landed by small artisanal fishermen also have lower unit fishing cost. Its foreign component is also small as these trawlers are either used trawlers imported into the country or constructed locally or obtained through technical assistance. There is of course no or negligible foreign cost in artisanal fishing operations. Present shrimp landings by trawlers is low, estimated at less than 2,500 tons. The remainder 13,000 tons or 84 % of the shrimp exported are landed by artisanal fishermen. Although it is claimed that the shrimp stock is being overfished or fished close to its MSY, this is not known with certainty.

Before the devastating cyclone of 29 April 1991, it appeared that the trawlers which numbered 52 units (33 shrimp, 11 fish and 8 combined shrimp/fish trawlers with 2 under repair) were being underutilised in relation to the “stock” available. With so many trawlers and boats either lost or severely damaged in the last cyclone and tidal bore, the shrimp and fish stock is expected to recover to an extent (i.e until the boats are repaired or new ones build). At any rate, research is needed to verify these two opposing claims.

Further, according to Rubbi (1990), the country's 87–90 export-oriented shrimp freezing and processing plants with annual installed capacity of at least 72,000 tons only can obtain a raw material supply of about 18,000 tons or about 25 % of the installed production capacity. This is a situation where demand has grown but supply has not, thus driving costs of processing and ex-plant prices up. Such losses of economic opportunities are inefficient and wasteful.

While it is clear that shrimp production should be stepped up, the other fisheries should also not be neglected. At present, the country only exports about 2,427 tons of frozen fish valued at Tk22.59 crore or US$6.5 million. In addition, it also exports small quantities of other fisheries products like salt and dried fish, shark's fin and frog legs. Bangladeshi non-shrimp export is thus a small (11 %) percentage of the overall fisheries export by volume. Its export value as a percentage of the total is even smaller, at about 5.0 %.

As there is a rapidly growing demand for finfish in the world market like seabass (Lates calcarifer), grouper (Epinephelus sp), snapper (Lutjanus sp) and pomfret (Pampus sp) from the marine environment, and sand goby (Oxyeleotris marmoratus), carp like Indian carp (Labeo rohita, Cirrhina mrigala, Catla catla) and Chinese carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella, Hypothalmichthys nobilis) and even tilapia (Tilapia nilotica) from freshwater, it is clearly worthwhile for the country to explore such investment options.

This international demand for seafood is still largely unfilled. Seaweed and shellfish like mussel, cockle and clam culture are additional investment opportunities worth exploring. Smith (1987) in his paper on the “Future Demand for Fish in the Southeast Asian Region” summarises the market situation thus:

“The Southeast Asian region has a population of over 300 million and is a major consumer of fish products. … Production growth is expected to slow as many of the fisheries in the region approach the limits of biological production. This suggests that any further growth in demand may not be easily accommodated at present prices. It is therefore important for the managers of the resource to be aware of the potential demand pressures so that appropriate policies can be put in place (p 1). … The market demand for fish in Southeast Asia is likely to increase by around 2.5 % a year over the period 1985–1995 (p 16).

Also, too much reliance on shrimp export alone is risky. World demand for shrimp will not grow very much in the foreseeable future unless price declines further; it is in fact beginning to stagnate at present level. Consumer resistance to unchecked price increases has already occurred. The country should diversify away from shrimp and produce other species for export as well. Opportunities in the marine fisheries sector do not appear to have been adequately explored in the past.

It is therefore recommended that such opportunities should be actively explored. Bangladesh is presently giving very low priority to this marine sector as can be gleaned from the FFYP allocation for the marine sector. This development bias is not unfounded as marine fish is not widely preferred by the local population. This is reflected in the ex-vessel and retail prices of marine fish. Even the local daily which reports prices of essential commodities provides only prices of freshwater fish species, omitting any reference to prices of marine fish.

Annually, only about 200,000 tons of marine fish (excluding shrimp export) are landed or 24 % of the total national landing.

More telling and perhaps even more disconcerting is the budget allocated for marine fisheries in the FFYP: less than 5 % of the fisheries budget as opposed to 28 % for inland open water fisheries development, management and conservation and 45 % for aquaculture and seed production, is allocated for the marine sector. The budget allocated is thus disproportionately lower than its actual contribution to the national and fisheries economies respectively.

This subsector can be profitably developed for the overseas market, if not even for the local market when properly planned. Local fishing boats are not presently fishing in the country's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Illegal fishing by foreign fishing fleet is reportedly rampant. Limited joint-venture fishing is being licensed and organised with selected foreign countries in the EEZ. This suggests that the country is not fully utilising its potential off-shore marine resources.

While Bangladeshi marine fish landings has not increased appreciably in recent years, the same cannot be said for the other Bay of Bengal countries which recorded significant increases in output. Marr, et al (1985) reported that an unknown amount of at least 10,000 tons and perhaps substantially more are now landed outside Bangladesh.

This implies that there is scope for expansion. Everett, et al (1985) recommended that the Department of Fisheries strengthens its capability in marine fisheries as fishing effort in this subsector has increased progressively in recent years. Such changes within the sector have extended the Department beyond its administrative and management capability.

To summarise, not only should the country diversify the species-mix of its fisheries exports, it should also diversify the product-mix in terms of increasing the value-added component of its fisheries products through greater processing within the country. In this way, additional employment can be created to absorb the more than 1 million people entering the labour market each year.


The value-added in the fisheries sector has been projected to grow at the rate of 4.8 % per annum during the Fourth Plan period (GoB, 1990). How realistic is this projection ? What is its basis and how is this growth rate arrived at ? What has been the past experience in adding value to the catch landed ? Except for shrimp “processing”, a review of past and present experience in this entrepreneurial endeavour reveals that value-added processing of the catch is still very limited and rudimentary. Less than a third of the catch landed is salted and dried; the other two-thirds are marketed as fresh uniced or iced fish.

At present, except for limited salting and drying of fish and some primary handling/secondary processing of shrimp and fish as frozen products for exports, no industry exists for secondary processing like fish canning, fish meal manufacture, minced fish or surimi production or even fish ball/fish cake/fish sauce/fish paste/fish cracker production. Not even at the cottage industry or smallscale level. Ample opportunities exist for such investments.

The prospects of Bangladesh having to import fish meal to support expanded aquaculture production is economically frightening as the export commodities will have a huge foreign component. The FFYP projects that nearly 37,000 tons of fish meal will have to be imported to underpin the planned aquaculture production expansion. This is not unlike the national garment industry, promoted as the second largest foreign exchange earner after jute. In 1989, out of Tk16 billion worth of garment exports, Tk13 billion or 75 % of the export earnings represented the foreign costs of fabrics and accessories.

Fisheries which is presently the third largest export commodity should not fall into the same trap. At present, the domestic resource cost of shrimp and fish exports is large relative to the foreign cost.

The production of surimi or minced fish from low-value high volume fish is now a big industry and investment opportunity in many developing countries such as Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. Surimi is the raw material which is now increasingly being used to make analogue seafood items like crab and lobster claws, fish fillet and shrimp tails. Smallscale fish meal production can be integrated with surimi production or fish canning. The by-catch from shrimp trawlers can supplement the raw material required for fish meal production.

Countries such as Japan and the U.S.A are increasingly contracting producer countries to process and manufacture fisheries products according to their specifications. Bangladesh investors should explore this option with the various trade missions visiting the country each year. Manufacture and export of final products instead of export of only raw materials not only create employment but also a wide range of economic activities which will further strengthen the national economy, including its fisheries economy. In this manner, more money will be put in the hands of the people, thus increasing the population's purchasing power and creating demand.


So far, no reference has been made to post-harvest loss and quality control. Post-harvest losses of the catch landed, particularly from capture fisheries as opposed to culture fisheries is estimated to be about 20 %. On an aggregate annual average fish landing of about 800,000 tons, this works out to 160,000 tons per year. Although it is claimed that nothing is wasted, implying that much of these fish are still being consumed, the hazards to human health and loss of nutritive value must be recognised. With minimal investment and effort in improved post-harvest handling and processing, a substantial quantity, if not all of these fish can be re-injected and returned to the market channel.

Likewise, Bangladesh fish exports, of which shrimp is a main commodity are reportedly being detained or rejected by the health regulatory agencies in the importing countries. The government should therefore ensure that its exports meet minimum health standards imposed by the importing countries to minimise losses and bad publicity.

Similarly, post-harvest loss of the wild fish spawn or seed collected must also be improved. Because of the crude methods of collection and handling used, mortality of the spawn/seed is very high. Such mortality reportedly averaged 90 %. Besides replacing the existing crude methods of seed collection and handling at the beach and during transport with improved methods, the spawn and fry collectors should be trained in identifying the fry of the different species of fish. This is because on average, it has been found that not more than 10 % of the fry collected belong to the target species. The rest are not retained but discarded and left to die on the beach. It is thus important that these non-target species be returned to the waters before they are landed so that they will survive and reproduce.

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