Some with bags in hand, others hands bare -- Barishal city dwellers were rushing to Port Road hilsa wholesale market on Tuesday midnight.
But why?Turns out it's the anticipation of a price fall surrounding the coming 22-day ban on selling the famed fish that kept the city awake at night.
Inside the market, there was barely any space to move about. Since Tuesday night, hundreds have been rushing in, completely flouting social distancing guidelines.
The 22-day ban started at midnight yesterday. Out of market for this period, anglers and sellers were anxious to sell off their stock. Trawlers after trawlers have been coming to the port for the last few days from Mehendiganj, Muladi, and Bhola, said wholesaler Ajit Kumar Das Manu.
And the customers are lapping it up. Someone was seen buying a pair of large-sized hilsa, while another got a haali (two pairs). Some of the wealthier could be seen bagging 10 or even a dozen of the fish.
For example, one Rekha Sultana said she wanted to stock at least 10 hilsa for her family for the ban.
This mass buying, however, has had a counter-intuitive effect on the price of the fish -- with so many willing buyers, sellers were actually being able to sell at relatively higher prices, well above the customers' expectations.
Still, anglers said they're incurring additional losses due to the scheduling of the ban. Although the full moon is on October 16, the imposition of the ban starts two days sooner, they said.
City dweller Ashok, an entrepreneur by profession, said he came to the market at the last minute, hoping that the price would go down. It didn't go down as much as he expected, but he still went home with a haali of hilsa for Tk 2,500.
Hilsa trader Sabuj told this correspondent that he sold hilsa weighing one kg at Tk 600-750, while smaller hilsa went at Tk 300-400 per kg.
During the final hours before the ban hit, price of hilsa went down quite a bit with those costing Tk 600-700 per kg coming down to Tk 400-500.
Beyond the physical sphere, the hilsa mania even seeped into the virtual space. Excited with the market's energy, many were seen posting photos on their social media accounts, which led to more people coming to the market. As a result, market operations continued way past midnight.
All this hype carries with it the potential for a violation of the ban, but the authorities said they are cautious. SM Ajiar Rahman, deputy commissioner of Barishal, said, "We are vigilant and will take action if anybody violates the rules for the ban period."
The ban obviously comes with repercussions for the anglers, but steps have been taken to soften the blow. Bimal Chandra Das, fisheries officer (hilsa) of Barishal, said a total of 5,650 tonnes of rice will be sold at a lower price (Tk 20 per kg) among 1,62,500 fisher families in Barishal division for the duration of the ban.