Frozen foods (shrimp, prawn and fish) ranked seventh among export items as per Bangladesh Export Promotion Bureau count done in 2021. Yet it is possible to come round to the initial ranking shortly through executing some dos.
In the 1990s, to cater a growing demand for shrimp PLs (Post Larvae), production of PL by using wild-caught brood stock (mature male and female ones used for breeding purposes) began in conventional shrimp hatcheries. The initial performance was good. However, the industry later faced difficulties with pathogen-affected PL, which affected productivity. On the other hand, in the 2000s, commercial expansion of freshwater prawn began with production of the PL. Though their start was smooth like conventional shrimp hatcheries, they, too, later faced the same fate.
When the shrimp and prawn sector faced problems with pathogen-affected PL, the hatchery stakeholders found other countries doing ever so well with SPF-PL (Specific Pathogen-Free Post Larvae). They started thinking about it and planned to switch to SPF-PL. They learned about the benefits of using SPF-PL, and three hatcheries started producing SPF-PL in the country. Among them, MKA hatchery started first producing SPF-PL in 2014. SPF brood stocks are developed to be free from key diseases and to produce PL that shows improved growth and survival in farms. The PL produced from SPF brood stock can be termed SPF-PL.
The black-tiger shrimp or Bagda plays a vital role in the fisheries sector and contributes significantly to the country's aquaculture and export of frozen foods, contributing to the livelihoods of an estimated one million people.
Among 80 hatcheries in Bangladesh, 52 shrimp hatcheries are active. Only three of them -- SPF hatcheries (MKA Hatchery, Desh Bangla SPF Hatchery, and Fishtech (BD) Limited) -- produce SPF-PL using imported SPF brood stock and SPF PPL (Parent Post larvae). The annual demand for shrimp PLs is over 8-9 billion. In the last five years, the total annual production of Bangladesh shrimp hatcheries has been 8-13 billion, with just 2-9 per cent being from SPF brood stock.
The freshwater prawn or Golda has a significant market globally for their taste and size. In Bangladesh, the annual demand for Golda PLs is around 1.5-2.0 billion. Currently, 25 prawn hatcheries are active among 107 government and private prawn hatcheries. The total production capacity of Golda PLs is approximately 850 million. The prawn PL production in 2009 was high at around 200 million. Thereafter, because of pathogen-affected brood stock, it began to experience high larval mortalities, and it seemed that the production was 30-50 million in the last couple of years. To meet the rest of annual demand, 80 per cent of prawn PLs come from wild catch in coastal rivers (although it is banned) and 15-20 per cent from the neighbouring countries (using informal channels).
The core shrimp/prawn value chain includes mainly PL production, grow-out farms, feed and other input suppliers, intermediate markets, processing plants and exporters. In the entire chain, PL production in hatcheries is of prime importance.
According to different journals, in the same circumstances, SPF-PL makes sure that the growth of black tiger and freshwater prawn is 30-percent higher than the conventional PL. The rate can even be higher in semi-intensive and intensive farming. It has been seen that the farmers' perception is that the conventional PLs are more active, so they prefer conventional PLs. But they are unaware that the conventional PLs carry the pathogens mostly.
Opportunities in disguise: It has been seen that the productivity in Bangladesh's shrimp and prawn farming is lower than in other countries. In general, traditional cultural practices with a lack of pond infrastructure, inadequate quality feed, and, more importantly, less use of SPF-PLs are the main reason for lower productivity.
Evidences from other countries, including China, Thailand and Vietnam, show that they had experienced problems with the wild-caught brood stocks earlier and already switched to mainly domesticated brood stock for prawns and SPF brood stock for shrimp and largely resolved the problem.
Since the vital problem is already identified, there are opportunities to regenerate the shrimp and prawn industry. Improved PL from domesticated brood stock and SPF brood stock can offer better production and profitability to hatcheries and farmers. In addition to the three SPF hatcheries, ten more conventional shrimp hatcheries are on way to converting into SPF hatcheries with permission from the Department of Fisheries (DoF), according to the Shrimp Hatchery Association of Bangladesh (SHAB).
A move towards Specific Pathogen-Free (SPF) for shrimp and SPF or domesticated brood stock for prawns and away from wild-caught brood stock can be a step towards revitalising the industry in Bangladesh. The revitalisation of the shrimp and prawn hatcheries needs a shift to the SPF brood stock and domesticated brood stocks in order to increase SPF-PL availability for farmers and offer expanded production and export.
An SAFETI hatchery specialist says, "If adequate SPF-PL supply is ensured with effective production management practice and a better post-harvest delivery chain, there is substantial potential for expanding Bangladesh's shrimp and prawn production."
Challenges facing the industry: In coastal Bangladesh, shrimp and prawn culture contributes to the livelihoods of millions of people. Though Bangladesh benefits from favourable climatic, soil, and salinity conditions to become a significant producer and exporter of shrimp and prawn, a few significant challenges still exist in the PLs production. Studies under the USDA-funded SAFETI project have identified the critical challenges causing this underperformance. Firstly, there is unskilled workforce in shrimp and prawn hatcheries (especially SPF shrimp hatcheries); and secondly, insufficient SPF hatchery, apart from the complication of importing SPF shrimp hatchery items, affecting the business.
To navigate these headwinds, developing a technical workforce for the hatcheries, reviewing and revisiting the policy to reform the tax and tariff on SPF brood stock and brood-stock feed, modifying the conventional hatcheries into SPF hatcheries, and more investment in the SPF hatchery business are an imperative.
SAFETI contributions: Safe Aqua Farming for Economic and Trade Improvement (SAFETI) project, a six-year project funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and implemented by Winrock International, is working to increase the production of farmed shrimp and prawn in Bangladesh to contribute to improved incomes, food quality and safety, and environmental sustainability.
The SAFETI project supports increasing farm productivity by ensuring SPF-PL production in hatcheries. As part of this effort, SAFETI has provided technical assistance to three SPF hatcheries and developed two hatchery-operation manuals to build up the capacity of hatchery operators. Furthermore, SAFETI has supported Fishtech (BD) Limited, which is developing domesticated lines of prawn brood stocks to supply to other prawn hatcheries so that farmers get quality PLs. Besides, SAFETI has conducted several pieces of training for the farmers, aqua-input traders, hatchery and nursery owners, relevant DoF officials, and other stakeholders. Also, SAFETI has trained technicians from the public-private sector to support them in adopting improved and globally accepted hatchery-management practices and appropriate hygiene measures (bio-security).
SAFETI believes that a much greater effort is needed to shift the entire industry to production of PL from SPF brood stocks. Such a shift will benefit the whole value chain from production to export and help the country realise its potential for expanding shrimp and prawn production.
SAFETI has done this support on a small scale, but enormous planning and execution are required to revitalise the sector. We expect the industry players' initiative to revive. Such efforts are essential to revamp Bangladesh's shrimp-and prawn-hatchery sector, increase the availability of SPF-PL for farmers, and expand production and exports in the days to come.
Note: The data used are from the survey conducted by SAFETI project.
Salma Sultana is Communication Manager, SAFETI project. Sukumar Biswas is Prawn Hatchery Specialist, SAFETI Project, Winrock International.