At least 200 poverty-stricken families, many of whom were fishers by profession, in Sharsha upazila of Jashore have resorted to catching snails for survival in the past few months.
Many of the residents, of eleven unions in the upazila, lost their livelihoods due to the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic and some of them lost their access to fishing in local water bodies such as Banmandar Beel.
Shankar Mandal, inhabitant of fishing village Tebaria in Dihi union, said they used to live on catching fish in Banmandar Beel, an open water body in the area.
After their entry to the wetland was restricted by a private fish farm, many of the villagers were forced to leave their ancestral profession and start scavenging open water bodies -- local rivers, canals, ponds and wetlands -- for snails.
They scour the area all day for snails and make a stockpile of those in the village in the afternoon.
Now he and his family members are struggling to survive on earnings from selling snails for only Tk 5 each kilogram. "On an average day, I get about 60 to 70 kilograms of snails," Shankar added.
The poor families are worried as to how long they would survive on the meagre income from gathering snail, which is available in the nature for only several months -- Ashar through Kartik of the Bangla calendar year.
Another cause for concern is that a large number of the snail gatherers are contracting skin diseases as toxicity is unusually high in the local water bodies this year, they said.
Pakshiya village resident Rajab Ali said he and his family members head out in the morning and continue to gather snails from the locality till around 3:00pm.
The family has to live on an income of around Tk 250 to Tk 300, from 50 to 60 kg of snails that they are able to gather in an entire day, he also said.
Sarani, who comes from family of fishers in fishing village Gorpara, said the water in the local water bodies this year is causing severe skin diseases. But, poor people like her, who have no skill for other jobs, have no other choice but to go in the water and gather snails every day.
Snail trader Akram Hossain, from Wapda Khalpara area, said snail is an ingredient of fish feed consumed at different shrimp enclosures and fish farms.
He also said that he buys about 65 to 70 maunds of snail from the gatherers every day and sells those to a buyer at Kapalia Bridge Bazar in Dumuria of Khulna.