With less than a month left for the Durga Puja – the biggest festival in West Bengal – the Sheikh Hasina-government in Bangladesh has decided to send at least 2,000 tonnes of Hilsa fish to West Bengal.
This comes at a time when fishermen in the state have been complaining of a poor catch this season. "This year, we would get 2,080 tonnes of Hilsa fish from Bangladesh. We are expecting the first consignment to arrive at the Petrapole border in a day or two. The consignments would continue to come till October 10," said SA Maqsood, secretary of the Fish Importers' Association in West Bengal.
Hilsa is often tagged as the Queen of Fish for its taste and the Bangladeshi Hilsa, found in River Padma, is considered to be tastier than the ones found in Ganga.
Even though the five-day-long Durga Puja starts this year from October 11, the festival extends for over a week every year. Mahalaya this year would be held on October 6 and the immersion process would continue till 17.
"Bangladesh had banned exports of Hilsa fish in 2012. Over the past three years, it has been lifting the ban around this time of the year and issuing special permission to export the fish. In 2019, Bangladesh sent around 500 tonnes of the fish. In 2020, it sent around 1,850 tonnes," said Maqsood.
Fish traders and importers in India have learnt from their Bangladeshi counterparts that the fish would weigh somewhere between 700 and 1200 grams each and the cost would be around ₹900 – ₹1,500 per kilo.
Every year during the monsoon, shoals of Hilsa swim several kilometres from the sea into the estuaries and upstream along the rivers for spawning after which they return to the Bay of Bengal. The eggs hatch in freshwater and the sub-adult Hilsa swim downstream into the sea. Another lot comes during February-March.
"This migration depends on multiple factors from depth of water at the mouth of rivers, amount of rainfall, river flush and water-pollution among others. The Hilsa, being very sensitive, changes its course and swims in the direction where the conditions are favourable. If they don't find suitable conditions in Hooghly in West Bengal, they enter Meghna-Padma estuary. Some may even go towards Irrawaddy in Myanmar," said Shyamsundar Das, joint secretary of West Bengal United Fishermen Association.
"The catch has been dwindling over the years. This year, we have managed to catch around 2,700-2,800 tonnes approx., which is slightly better than last year," said Akhil Giri, state fishery minister.