The annual output of hilsa in Bangladesh should not exceed 7 lakh tonnes no matter what steps are taken, a study by the Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute (BFRI) says, as there has been a gradual rise in hilsa production.
The study finds that the total amount of biomass in the hilsa breeding grounds in the country currently stands at 4 lakh tonnes, from which a maximum of 7 lakh tonnes of mature hilsa can be produced a year, BFRI Director General Yahya Mahmud told The Business Standard.
If more than 7 lakh tonnes of hilsa are caught in one season, the biomass will be damaged and the production of the fish will decrease in future, he added.
Biomass is the quantity of living organisms in a given area or an ecosystem at a given time.
Mahmud, however, said the stock of biomass can be increased in a few years if the fishing of juvenile hilsa, widely known as jatka, is reduced quickly. And, if the stock of biomass increases, more hilsa can be harvested.
The BFRI plans to conduct the study again after two years.
Meanwhile, the average annual yield of the scrumptious silvery hilsa in the country is still hovering around 5.5 lakh tonnes. In other words, there is a scope for harvesting another 1.5 lakh tonnes of hilsa every year.
Researchers say at the present rate of yearly growth in hilsa extraction it will take another 7-10 years to reach the maximum sustainable yield of the fish.
According to the Fisheries Department, a record high of 5.65 lakh tonnes of hilsa were harvested in the fiscal 2020-21. The figure was 5.50 lakh tonnes in FY20, 5.33 lakh tonnes in FY19, 5.17 lakh tonnes in FY17, and 4.96 lakh tonnes in FY17.
On the other hand, a huge amount of jatka is seized every year in various drives by the government. But, people concerned say the actual amount of jatka being caught every year by fishermen is several times higher.
In FY21, 474.42 tonnes of jatka were caught, which was 250 tonnes in FY17.
Researchers at the Fisheries Department said the current size of the hilsa market is over Tk16,000crore if the price of 1kg of the fish is estimated at Tk300. Nonetheless, the fish is sold at Tk350 to Tk1,300 a kg depending on sizes, they added.
Hilsa accounts for 11% of the total fish supply in the country, they said, adding that 86% of the global supply of the species comes from Bangladesh.
Govt initiatives to boost hilsa production
According to the Fisheries Department, juvenile hilsas are found throughout the year in various rivers and coastal areas of Bangladesh, while the main season for catching jatka is from January to April, but in some years it extends to May.
Extensive catching of jatka hampers the optimum production of hilsa.
The government declares hilsa sanctuaries during the breeding season to make sure the fish can safely lay eggs. A hilsa fish lays 23-24 lakh eggs in a season.
Besides, the government implements various programmes every year to curb jatka catching. Also, the netting of hilsa remains prohibited in a certain period of the year. During this period, the government provides food aid to the fishermen who earn their livelihood by catching hilsa.