To fish, or not to fish, that has become the national debate of the day.
And the fish in question is the venerated Hilsa.
To be honest, the Hilsa and a Bangali are never far from each other. It became a fad in the mid-eighties to celebrate the festival of Pahela Baisakh in Dhaka at the Suhrawardi Udyan fare with Hilsa and panta bhat. A writer-poet, now living in Canada, made the claim sometime back that it was he and his group of friends who started the fad. The unintended consequence of their innocent enough act is that the fish is now threatened with extinction.
The mad rush to get the fish for Pahela Baisakh has pushed the price to unimaginable heights and overfishing during its spawning season may bring extinction to the fish soon.
Pahela Baisakh has been celebrated without panta-Hilsa for generations. The urban middle-class fancy indulgence on the day and the existential crisis for the fish has made the government sit up and take notice. It has launched campaigns to discourage fishing this time of the year. In fact, it is illegal to catch the fish during its spawning season.
It is a time to let the silvery fish of dreams mature and spawn in the major rivers like Padma and Meghna. Catching the Hilsa in its breeding season is banned for some time now even though fishermen ignore it and the coast guard and police are pretty active to seize nets and illegal catches.
The social media activists have launched their own virtual campaign urging all to not eat the fish this Bangla New Year. They are also urging others not to buy the fish now.
Memes and posts are spawning too to save the national fish from this celebration:
Here are some on the astronomical prices of the fish:
Some Facebook posts are pointing out the hypocrisy of eating the fish for the Bangla New Year.
Some posts are reminding readers that it is an urban practice, not a rural one.
Others are more worried about the future of the fish. The fear is that there might not be any fish left for them later. They blame the businessmen of exploiting the fad and hiking the price to unusual heights. Some also fear that exports to India might create a crisis of the fish here.
What should be done
If you can, don’t buy the fish now. Tell your friends and close ones to do the same.
After the restricted fishing period, there has to be some kind of restriction on exporting the fish so the local market becomes bearable.
Finally, thank you for saving the Hilsa, our national treasure, this Pahela Baisakh!