As the clouds descended on Delhi sky, I dreamt of my favourite fish of the monsoon – Hilsa(Ilish). Hilsa is the fish close to Bengali souls. It is also known as Ilish. But the exorbitant prices have forced many Bengalis to forgo their favourite fish. Over the course of the past few weeks, I tried putting on my best smile to negotiate with the salesperson in Market No.1 , Chittaranjan Park, New Delhi and he politely replied, “Didi, hobe na. Hole Ditam Na. Maximum Discount dusho taka. Last price 1200” (Sister,Not possible. I will not manage. I can give you a discount of Rs 200. Last price Rs 1200).
Well Hilsa is available for Rs 1200. Yes, fish lovers if you are gearing up to have you favourite fish- Hilsa you should be ready to spend Rs 1000-1200. Not only in Delhi markets have Hilsa been priced at Rs 1000-1500 but this fish is also being sold in Kolkata from Rs 700-Rs 1000 depending on quality and size. One of the reasons of the increase in price of Hilsa is the restriction of exports from Bangladesh in 2012. Hilsa is the national fish of Bangladesh. The Hilsa lovers will be acquainted with prefixes as Padmar Ilish, Kolaghat Ilish signifying the river belts and areas from where this fish is found in abundance on both sides of Bengal landscape.
Padmar Ilish or the Hilsa found in the waters of Padma river of Bangladesh is famous and if you happen to take the bus from Kolkata to Dhaka even in the wee months of December (off season of Hilsa) you might get to try a meal of fried Hilsa on the deck of the Barge that carries the bus. Significantly, this fish has played a key role in the economy of Bangladesh and approximately 2 million fishermen in Bangladesh depend on this fish for their livelihood.1 This year, Bangladesh imposed a ban during the holy of Ramdan on the exports of the fish. Did it help?
Well Iqbal Mahmud, in his article ‘Hilsa Dreams” alerts us that the reason for this ban was the escalating prices of Hilsa this season even in Bangladesh. There has been a sharp increase in the production of Hilsa in Bangladesh. The official statistics record production of 3.22 million tonnes (Fiscal year 2012), which is some 5.2 per cent higher than that of 2011. Despite such huge production and record exports, the prices of Hilsa remain unaffected and the recent ban led to a mere decrease of 200-300 Taka in Bangladash. So, if the fish lovers were forced to pay Tk 1000 for a middle size fish after the ban they would pay Tk 600-700. Iqbal takes us through some of the prominent fish markets and Fisher Association/s in Bangladesh, pointing the happiness as well as distress. For instance, representatives of Barishal Fish Merchants Association expressed serious concern and fear that Bangladesh might lose out on export of this fish to India and Myanmar. One of the fishermen also indicated that exporters are waiting to get payment from their counterparts from West Bengal for their previous exports. The report also alleges concerns from government officials and fish traders that illegal smuggling will continue and is the primary reason for the increase in prices.2
One of the commendable efforts of the Fisheries Department in Bangladesh is the Jatka Conservation project undertaken by the Department of Fisheries. What is a Jatka? The young Hilsa fish is called Jatka. Jatka Conservation, Alternate Income Generation for the Jatka Fishers and Research Project was sponsored by Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock and the executing agency was Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute (BFRI)3. It was initiated in June 2009 and wrapped up by June 2013 and in one of the conservation weeks held in April 2012 the BFRI claimed that the project has been successful.
BSS ( the national news agency of Bangladesh) in an article “Hilsa output may rise to 5 lakh tonnes” hails this project as successful. The Department of Fisheries alternative food and employment assistance given to fishermen since 2003- 04 (1.99 lakh tonnes) has led to increase of Hilsa production(3.40 lakh tonnes in 2011). What is significant to note is that considering Hilsa is a migratory fish and it continues to change its course very often not only do we need to preserve Jatka but also have transnational research agency and work towards a tri-nation agreement between Bangladesh, India and Myanmar to conserve this fish which migrates extensively . As a senior scientific officer Dr. Md. Anisur Rahman remarked on this occasion, ‘The country also needs to sign a tri-nation agreement with Myanmar and India for conservation of the fish through enhancing regional cooperation’.4
A similar effort on conservation of Jatka has been promised by Honourable Chief Minister of Bengal, Mamata Banerjee. Since the past three years there existed a ban on catching the juvenile fish in West Bengal as well which clearly has been ignored. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has promised alternative employment and rice at Rs 2 per kg for 200,000 fishermen in West Bengal if they abstain from catching Hilsa during the breeding season April- May, October – November. Another reason for the decline in catch in West Bengal side is the decline in rainfall in Southern Bengal and the choking of various creeks in Sunderban delta due to emergence of islands and heavy siltation forcing the fish to take a new course.5
Apart from the low catch in West Bengal, even the yields in riverine tracts of Narmada have been low. Madhvi Sally and Sutanuka Ghoshal in their report on souring Hilsa prices in early August 2012 in Economic Times clearly points the decline of the availability of Hilsa in the rivers of Narmada. In this article , one of the fishermen in Bharuch Fish Market clearly indicated he decline in catch . The fisherman quoted in this article thinks that industrial pollution along Narmada river and increase in the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam is responsible for the less number of catch.6
As Hilsa prices reach rocket high it’s time we put a stop on Jatka catch if we want it on our plates in Monsoon and secondly considering the fish is migratory in nature its important the three countries (Bangladesh, Myanmar and India) come together to conserve this migratory fish because a lot of fishermen from these three countries depend on fishing as a living. May be it is also time to check ourselves to buy fish in the breeding season or avoid buying Jatka if you want to enjoy Ilish Machch Bhaja (Fried piece of Hilsa) with Bhuna Khichdi in monsoon.
1 Hilsa- National Fish of Bangladesh.
Source: http://www.mediabangladesh.net/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=424:hilsa-national-fish-bangladesh-ilish&catid=8:bangladesh&Itemid=38; Accessed on 27 August 2012.
2. Iqbal Mahmud, “Hilsa Dreams”. The New Age, 17 August 2012,
Source: http://www.newagebd.com/supliment.php?sid=111&id=814; Accessed on 27 August 2012
3 For details on BFRI visit their web portal http://www.fri.gov.bd/index.php?module=content&action=default&cntid=1607&mid=-1&lan=; Accessed on 27 August 2012.
4 For details see, “Hilsa output may rise to 5 lakh tonnes”, BSS, 12 April 2012
5 For details on this see Romita Datta, “Worried by falling Hilsa catch Mamata intervenes”, 16 August 2012,
http://www.livemint.com/2012/08/16233352/Worried-by-falling-hilsa-catch.html; Accessed on 27 August 2012.
6 For details see Madhvi Sally & Sutanuka Ghosal, “Hilsa prices soar to Rs 1,000 per kg as shrinking Narmada and Hooghly make breeding difficult”, 8 August 2012.
http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-08-08/news/33100832_1_hilsa-catch-utpal-bhaumik-hilsa-prices; Accessed on 27 August 2012.