Citing potential misuse of bonded warehouses and health risks, stakeholders have opposed a move to import white fish from Europe and Africa for processing and re-export to Russia and Europe, officials said. The Department of Fisheries on Wednesday formed a technical committee to evaluate the plan before making a decision. Apex Foods Ltd, an export-oriented shrimp processing company with a factory in Chattogram, submitted a request to the Ministry of Commerce last year to import, process and re-export white fish. The ministry then asked the company to seek recommendations from the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock and submit them to commerce.

In the application, Apex Foods said their factory, with a capacity of processing and freezing 67 tonnes of shrimp daily, operates at only 35-40 per cent due to shrimp scarcity. The shrimp processor believes importing white fish would help it utilise the full capacity of the factory and generate foreign currency through re-export. Syed Md Alamgir, director general of the Department of Fisheries, presided over a meeting on Wednesday where the potential impact of white fish imports on local fishers and producers was discussed. Stakeholders at the meeting expressed concerns about the potential misuse of bonded warehouses by factory owners, fearing they might illegally sell the imported fish in the local market, similar to alleged issues in the apparel sector.

This, they claimed, would jeopardise their businesses. They also expressed worries about the possibility of health hazards if the imported white fish from Africa and Europe are contaminated. According to sources, a representative of the Bangladesh Marine Fisheries Association (BMFA) presented several proposals at the meeting before proceeding with the white fish import plan. The association, whose members engage in deep-sea fishing, including white fish, demanded mandatory compliance with sections 24(1) and (3) of the Fisheries and Fisheries (Inspection and Quality Control) Act 2020 for fish imports.

The sections stipulate health, traceability, and halal certificates, and certificates of hygiene for frozen, cured or any fish item import. Besides, the association requested adherence to sections 23, 26, 29, and 33 of the Food Safety Act, 2013, during the permitting process. The association further proposed the mandatory submission of fish examination reports before port release.

Before granting permission, they demanded proper calculation during the processing stage and the amount of value addition. Their demands included the formation of a supervision committee to check under-invoicing and regular reporting of imported and exported fish volumes. Nurul Qayyum Khan, president of the Marine Fisheries Association, told The Financial Express that the issues raised by the association need to be taken seriously before granting permission for white fish imports.

A representative of the Bangladesh Frozen Foods Exporters Association (BFFEA) told the FE that allowing imports and re-exports could earn foreign currency and effectively utilise factory capacity. “Our factories would not import traditional fishes that are consumed locally,” he said. He criticised concerns about illegal domestic sales.