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Variety back on fish platter

- Bangladesh export ban lifted, but no reprieve for hilsa

Fish-loving Bengalis can celebrate the return of bhetki paturi, parsher shorshe jhal and tangra chochhori to the menu, without burning a hole in their pockets, while bhapa ilish continues to be a costly wish.

Bangladesh withdrew its ban on export of fish on Sunday, raising expectations of a drop in prices of bekti, tangra and parshe in the city markets. The ban on ilish, however, stays.

Calcuttans have been deprived of Padmar ilish since August, when Bangladesh enforced curbs on export. The ban triggered a rise in the prices of bekti, tangra and parshe in Bengal, which imports 12,000 tonnes of ‘white fish’ from Bangladesh annually.

“It is not a very large amount compared with the total consumption of fish in the state and it (the Bangladesh variety) does not taste as good as the local variety but extra supply helps keep prices in check,” said Anil Sen of Calcutta Seafoods Private Limited.

“Not only ilish, the price of most fish has been on the rise. I have been struggling to manage my budget. On my weekly trips to the fish market, I have had to spend around Rs 500 more than what I spent even four months ago,” said Arpita Chatterjee, a homemaker at Salt Lake.

On Tuesday, bekti was selling at Rs 335 a kg for the less-than-a-kilogram variety at Maniktala market, while the larger ones (1kg to 1.5kg) were priced at Rs 365 per kg. At Spencer’s Hyper in Mani Square, it was available at Rs 339 and Rs 369 per kg, depending on the size.

“The price of bekti has gone up by at least Rs 50-80 for all varieties because of the drop in supply to retail markets,” said Bablu Das, a wholesaler and retailer at Maniktala fish market. “A good local harvest, supply from Andhra Pradesh and Odisha and import from Bangladesh usually ensure abundant stock. But the supply has been poor this time.”

Parshe and tangra that earlier sold for Rs 150 to Rs 200 are now priced at Rs 199 and Rs 229 per kg respectively in most markets.

It has been a mixed year for all Calcuttans worth their fish. First, ilish lovers had to make do with the frozen variety from Bangladesh, only to be robbed of even that pleasure by a blanket ban on export of all fish except shrimps. The silver lining came in the form of abundance of prawns.

The wait for reprieve was lengthened with a consignment of fish weighing nearly 12 tonnes being forced to return from the Benapole border on Monday as customs officials were yet to receive a copy of the notification issued by the Bangladesh government withdrawing the export ban.