Agri Business

Bengal’s Hilsa catch dwindle on rampant netting, unfavourable weather

Shobha Roy Kolkata | Updated on July 22, 2021

Soaring fuel costs too aid the trend; retail prices skyrocket to ₹1,600-2,000 a kg

The rampant and indiscriminate overfishing and unfavourable weather conditions coupled with a steep hike in fuel prices is dealing a severe blow on the availability of hilsa or illish fish, considered a delicacy in Bengal.

The lower availability has pushed up retail price which is currently ruling at around ₹1,600-2,000 a kg in most markets of Kolkata, almost double compared to ₹700 - 1,000 in the same period last year.

The catch has been dwindling steadily over the last three years from close to 36,000 tonnes in 2018 to around 11,000 tonnes in 2020.

The availability is expected to be far lower this year due to heavy bottom trawling and unfavourable weather conditions, industry insiders said.

According to Bijan Maity, President of the Kakdwip Fishermen Association in West Bengal, the steep rise in diesel prices has pushed up cost of going into the sea by nearly 50 per cent. A 10-15 days round trip by a trawler, which used to cost around ₹1 lakh earlier currently costs close to ₹1.5 lakh.

“Despite spending a higher amount, the catch has just not been good enough to cover the cost so most of the fishermen are incurring huge losses. The catch is as low as 3-4 tonnes a day now compared with close to 200-250 tonnes a day earlier. This, in turn, has brought down the number of trawlers venturing into the deep sea,” Maity told BusinessLine.

Never too maach ilish!

Trapping juvenile fish

A good number of people have therefore been casting nets in shallow waters along the coastline instead of venturing deep into the sea. Moreover, they are using finer nets thereby trapping juvenile hilsa.

Joykrishna Halder, general secretary of United Fishermen’s Association, said, “Just last week there was a raid which exposed the catch of close to 100 tonnes of juvenile fish of about 6-7 cm in length. This kind of rampant fishing increases the crisis of poor availability,” he said.

Buying fish online is the new Bengali ritual

Hilsa, which is native to the Bay of Bengal, moves into rivers to spawn. While catching juvenile hilsa (typically weighing around 300-400 gm) has been banned in the country, implementation of the same has remained a challenge given the steady demand throughout the year.

There is a ban on fishing hilsa during the breeding period (April to June). However, once that ban is lifted (from June 15) fishermen resort to indiscriminate fishing. The hilsa season usually lasts from June 15 to middle of October.

Published on July 22, 2021

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