Fish importers in West Bengal on Thursday requested the Bangladesh government to send at least 2,000MT of Hilsa fish, popularly known as the queen of fish, to the state for the upcoming festive season.
"Last year, the Bangladesh government had allowed export of 4,600MT of Hilsa but due to paucity of time, only around 1200 MT could reach us. This year we have requested them to allow export of around 2000MT but increase the time frame from one month to around 45 days so that the entire consignment could be imported," said SA Maqsood, secretary of Fish Importer's Association.
While the catch of Hilsa along the West Bengal coast has been dwindling, the haul in Bangladesh has gone up steadily over the years because of multiple reasons.
Since 2012, the Sheikh Hasina-led Bangladesh government imposed a ban on the export of Hilsa. Every year, a few thousand metric tonnes of Hilsa are allowed to be exported to India during this time of the year.
"We have also urged the Bangladesh government to lift the ban on Hilsa which has been imposed since 2012. We are yet to receive any response. Hopefully the response will come within a week and Bangladeshi Hilsa will be available before the Durga Puja," he said.
In 2021, fishermen in West Bengal could catch only around 6,170MT of Hilsa. The catch has been going down over the years. In 2011, Hilsa catch was around 16,500MT. It went down below 10,000MT over the next three years. In 2017, around 26,000MT of Hilsa was caught, the highest haul in recent times. In 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, it went down to 2,085MT, the lowest in recent years.
There are multiple factors ranging from unbridled fishing, pollution, rainfall, decreasing depth in rivers because of siltation and river flush around this time of the year, among others.
"They are very sensitive to subtle changes. They would migrate from sea to rivers to breed and would swim in that direction where they get favourable conditions. If they don't find suitable conditions in River Hooghly in West Bengal, they enter the Meghna-Padma estuary in Bangladesh," said Shyamsundar Das, joint secretary of West Bengal United Fishermen Association.
This year too, the catch has been meagre as a result of which prices have soared.
The fish weighing more than a kilogram is selling for ₹1,800-2,000.
The bigger the size, the higher is the price per kilogram but decent-sized Hilsa (at least 1.5kg) are hard to find in the market.