"West Bengal should learn from Bangladesh how to conserve hilsa, meet demands"

Hilsa connoisseurs in Kolkata eagerly waiting for Durga Puja when supply from Bangladesh would begin
Hilsa Conservation
File photo: Reuters

Shankar Dey, a mid-ranking government officer in south Kolkata's Deshopriya Park locality, makes it a point to browse the nearby Lake Market early every morning in search of quality fish.

This year, he is disappointed as his first love hilsa is acting pricy. The reason? Short supply due to late arrival of monsoon in southern part of West Bengal.

Shankar has no option but to wait for the Durga Puja festival in the first week of October, when supply of quality hilsa from Bangladesh would begin.

While Bangladesh strictly enforces a ban on catching hilsa during the breeding season, it is not by and large the case in West Bengal, said Anudeb Das, a leading fish seller at Jadavpur market in south Kolkata.

He said bazars in Kolkata are flooded with small-sized hilsas – locally called "khoka ilish" – and many of the bigger fish are carrying eggs. "That is because the insatiable craze for hilsa and sellers' greed for quick bucks is endless in our state," said Das.

"By contrast, look at Bangladesh which has perfected the practice of conserving and promoting hilsa not only for domestic consumption but also catering to hilsa connoisseurs abroad. In Bangladesh, anyone flouting the ban on catching hilsa 'jatka' (immature fish) at this time is dealt with a heavy hand. But not so in West Bengal," said a fish wholesaler in Howrah market.

"Basically, we have not learnt how to balance the demand for local hilsa variety and their conservation during breeding season," said the fish trader.

"The Indian side of the confluence of the Ganges and the Bay of Bengal – at Ganga Sagar island – is largely bereft of hilsa because of rampant fishing of the 'khoka ilish' (smaller fish)," he added.

As monsoon usually sets in Bengal by June-end or early July, people in Kolkata wait for hilsa to spice up their palates. "Customers eagerly wait for the 'notun joler ilish' at the start of the monsoon. But this summer, the arrival of monsoon has been delayed and is very weak so far," said Anudeb Das.

So, the people in Kolkata are forced to make do with the hilsa from Diamond Harbour near the Ganga Sagar island, Damodar river, and those from Myanmar.

But, as Rajiv Chakraborty, a school teacher in Gariahat locality of Kolkata, reiterates: "Nothing beats the taste of a Bangladeshi hilsa, especially that of Padma river."


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