Dhubri, Oct. 22: Have your fill of ilish bhapa, bhaja and paturi, there is a bounty in the Brahmaputra.
Environmentalists believe the sudden rise in hilsa/ilish (tenualosa ilisha) in the 50-km stretch of the Brahmaputra from Jaleswar in Goalpara district to adjacent Dhubri is the result of cyclone Phailin that hit the east coast on October 13, forcing the fish to “escape” to the river and its tributaries from the Bay of Bengal.
The easy availability has led to a drastic fall in prices of hilsa in the local and nearby markets. Besides, this town in lower Assam, which used to import the popular variety, is now exporting it to Bengal.
The retail price of hilsa is down from Rs 800 per kg to Rs 150-Rs 200 in Dhubri district. At source on the south bank it is still less — Rs 80-100 per kg — as the local market is unable to absorb the rise, forcing fish traders to send the surplus to Cooch Behar and Siliguri in Bengal at a wholesale price of Rs 250 per kg.
Sankar Das, a fish trader, said, “We are unable to sell even a part of our catch of ilish in Dhubri markets. There is so much fish in the river that we are able to catch it without toil. Usually we fished at night for hilsa, now we can do it in the day as well.”
A fish dealer, Surya Das, said the easy availability was unprecedented in his 50 years in the business. “On an average, we are sending 50 to 70 quintals of ilish daily to north Bengal, where it is much in demand and is sold for Rs 500 per kg in retail. I have also been sending fish to Cooch Behar.”
Fish traders said import of hilsa from Siliguri, 260km from Dhubri, was almost negligible now, around five quintals against 60 quintals per day. But the imported hilsa, which costs around Rs 800 a kg, is bigger and tastier, they added. Over two lakh people in Dhubri district, bordering Bangladesh, depend on fish trade for their livelihood.
Soumyadeep Datta, a naturalist and director of Assam-based NGO, Nature’s Beckon, said the recent depression and subsequent cyclone in the Bay of Bengal that affected the coastal areas of Odisha might have “frightened and forced the fish to take shelter in the Brahmaputra to survive the onslaught of the cyclone”.
“A fish can sense danger much before a human being and tries to escape the calamity. What helps the ilish are two striking features — it can survive and breed both in saline and non-saline water and can move against the current of a river,” Datta explained.
In support of his reasoning, Datta cited the Assam earthquake of 1951 when all the river dolphins entered the tributaries of the Brahmaputra to survive. While the Brahmaputra’s riverbed had risen by several metres, the tributaries were not affected.
Dhubri district fishery department in-charge Chayan Kumar Acharjee said, “We are analysing the reasons but cyclone Phailin could be a major one.” He said the cyclone could have caused some areas to dry up, forcing the fish to enter the Dhubri stretch of the river from Bangladesh side.
Guwahati: Rs 600 -Rs 700 per kg
Agartala: Rs 1200 per kg
Imphal: Not sold. Purchased from Silchar in Assam at Rs 400 to Rs 500 per kg
Shillong: Rs 600-
Rs 700 per kg
Aizawl: Rs 600 per kg
Itanagar: Rs 500-600 per kg
Kohima: Rs 450-500 per kg