Though dry fish is a popular delicacy across the country, its consumption is hazardous to human health as the preservative used to keep the fish dry is highly toxic.
Dry fish traders at Kharinasi, Ramnagar and Paradip at the Bay of Bengal widely use the preservative to keep the fish dry for longer for export to states like West Bengal, Assam and Chattishgarh.
Test of samples of a particular class of preservative used in processing dry fish in a Bhubaneswar-based regional research laboratory found substances of Formalin De-Hyde which is often used to preserve the human body.
"It is deadly if consumed raw and if one has to use it for processing dry fish it should be used only in a diluted form," Subrat Das, marine fisheries officer of Paradip zone, said.
However, Hemant Biswal, local unit chief of the Orissa Marine Fish Producers Association, claims that the toxicity content of the preservative is greatly reduced once it is exposed to air.
To put an end to the unethical trade practice, the Marine Fisheries Directorate has clamped a blanket ban on any form of chemical for dry fish processing.
"We have come across reports of dry fish traders using preservatives. As the preservative chemicals are suspected to contain toxicity, orders were issued recently on prohibiting its use," Subrat Das said.
Notices have been served to dry fish manufacturing units, marine fishermen`s bodies, trawler operators` associations besides fishermen`s cooperative societies. Any deviation would be a penal offence under the Marine Fishing Regulation act, 1982, he said.
Bibhuti Biswal, a spokesman for the traders, defending the use of preservatives argued that it was a common practice among fishing communities across the country and to the best of his knowledge it was not detrimental to human health.
He said that they had stopped using only a particular brand.
Dilip Kumar Biswal, Chief Medical Officer of the Biju Memorial hospital, Paradip, countered the claim, arguing that the samples handed over to them had indeed been found to be toxic and harmful for human health.
The CMO said that the matter had been referred to the higher-ups in the state heath department.
Around 500 families, mostly migrant Bengali-speaking people, are in the trade which they have been plying through generations. Over 100 more families are indirectly employed in the trade.
Apart from Paradip and adjoining fishing villages in Kendrapara district, the other major dry fish production centre is Huma-Sunakhala in Ganjam district which accounted for 3,500-4,000 tonnes of average annual yield.
The produce is transported to places like Rourkela, Talcher, Sambalpur, Bargarh and other parts of western Orissa.