Where has Hilsha gone?

| Updated: July 18, 2022 21:55:27

Where has Hilsha gone?

The much vaunted bans slapped at least twice a year on catching fish, Hilsha in particular, seem to have fizzled out. No, the bans are imposed with much gusto but the results seem to have petered out. For a proof, have a look at the fish markets in your locality and the supply of the Bangalee's most favourite fish is next to nothing.

Ever since the imposition of bans on brood catching under the Protection and Conservation of the Fish Act, 1950, the production of Hilsha had shown an appreciable increase until the last couple of years. Even in 2019, Hilsha was abundant in the market and the price was quite affordable even for the lower segments of society. But since 2020, there has been a drastic fall in the supply of this 'king of fish' to the market.

Although Hilsha spawns round the year, its main spawning season is in October-November with secondary spawning occurring in February-March and June-July periods. The long fishing bans in rivers and even in the sea, researchers informed, helped proliferate the Hilsha population and the catches started to be well beyond the fishermen's expectation. The Bangalees who almost forgot how the fish tastes started to have their favourite dishes of the fish on a regular basis.

In the peak season, a Hilsha of an average size was priced as low as Tk250-300 and the highest price for the largest specimen in the market was no more than Tk1,000. But like the past two years, the supply crunch is acuter this year too and the few fish available are not quite cherishable but their prices are simply forbidding for the majority of customers. Even the smallest variety sells at Tk 800-1,000 and the few choicest ones would cost Tk 2,500-3,500.

Clearly, the fish has once again become a rarity on the Bangalees' dining table. Then what has gone wrong? The bans are enforced almost religiously with the fishermen becoming unemployed for months and suffering economic penury. There was news early this year that in the Baleshwar or Baleshwari river, fishermen were frustrated not to have any Hilsha catch but they were compensated by heavy catch of pangas (pangasius pangasius).

 What has gone amiss? It is a layman's guess that the estuaries of upstream rivers where matured Hilshas come to lay their eggs hold the key to the mystery. The rivers in Bangladesh are so polluted that, maybe, the eggs fail to materialise into broods in an adequate number. The other possibility could be that Hilshas have opted for different spawning zones. But it is unlikely because the estuaries they could opt for are located within this region or further in the Persian Gulf.

If the fish ventured into estuaries located in Myanmar or India, those countries would have reported heavy catches by this time. The fish roughly takes a year for maturity. For two consecutive years scarcity of Hilsha in the region of Bay of Bengal's waters is unexplainable.

Yet another possibility could be the impact of the climate change. Can it be that the global warming and strange phenomena in terms of the absence of monsoon wind, an untimely infiltration of sea wind from the Arabian Sea have impacted the character of the Bay of Bengal's water? If these are not to blame, pollution of waters of rivers and sea is likely to be the sole villain.

Whatever it may be, let ichthyologists and scientists of allied disciplines carry out a study to find out what really has been behind the scarcity of Hilsha population for such a long period. Even the bans are producing no positive results. This is indeed a cause for concern. An answer to this has to be found in the interest of saving the fish the Bangalees love so dearly.


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