Hilsa Playing Truant In Bengal, Abundant In Bangladesh

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The dearest element of the Bengali dish is fast vanishing from West Bengal. With a per kg price of Rs 1,500 or above, the Hilsa is becoming a rare delicacy in the state. But its abundance has reduced its price in Bangladesh. Though the neighbouring country and Bengal shares a contiguous coast, the Hilsa harvest is falling fast on Bengal coast and rising sharply in Bangladesh coat.

How it can be explained?

First, let us see some statistics. The production of Hilsa has fallen by 66 per cent over the last three years in Bengal, whereas in Bangladesh it is increasing continuously over the last ten years. In Bengal coast, according to the fisheries department, 30-35 tonnes of Hilsa were netted every day during the Hilsa season till 2017, but now it has reduced to 10 tonnes per day.

In the last 10 years, the Hila catch has gone down by 66 percent in Bengal, whereas it has increased by 78 percent in Bangladesh. In more concrete terms, ten years ago in Bangladesh, the quantum of the catch was 115 tonnes per day. Now it is over 150 tonnes.

Why this is happening is known to all. Years ago, Bangledesh prohibited the catching of small Hilsa fishes. They have a law that prohibits catching a Hilsa less than 23 cm in length or 350 grams in weight. The net for catching Hilsa in the neighbouring state too has particular specifications. The net holes must be 100 mm, and if it is violated the army burn the nets. In Bengal, the specification is 90 mm, but it is violated all over the coast. According to Ashim Kumar Nath, professor of zoology, Bengal has not been strict in stopping the harvesting of young Hilsa fishes and is now paying the price.

The scientists feel the catching of young ones at the coast not only reduces the scope of catching bigger ones in the river (Hilsa swims into the river during the monsoon and then goes back to the sea again), but it also prods the fish to avoid Bengal coast. Over the last 10-15 years a lot of many research papers have appeared on the subject, but the Bengal government has not reacted properly.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh has stopped the export of Hilsa to India, and it is believed the reason behind the decision was not getting enough COVID-19 vaccine doses from India.

(The author Diptendra Raychaudhuri is a senior journalist based in Kolkata. He has a wide range of experience in covering West Bengal politics and has authored several books)  

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