The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sale ban bid to save the baby hilsa

The time’s arrived to bid adieu to the ‘khoka ilish’ (baby hilsa). The state fisheries department has decided to ban the wholesale and retail of this breed of fish if it weighs below 500 g.

Traditionally, the advent of monsoon floods the city’s markets with baby hilsa. “The ban will come into force from monsoon 2004,” said fisheries minister Kironmoy Nanda.

“I have, time and again, asked the Union ministry of agriculture to impose a ban on trawling in the sea for four months, from April to August, to save the bio-diversity of the coastal ecosystem. My pleas have evoked no response,” the minister lamented.

The state government’s jurisdiction on the waterfront is limited to 12 nautical miles and the trawlers fish well beyond that limit. So, the state government cannot save the baby hilsa from the net.

But unless the practice is checked, shoals of hilsa will disappear from the Hooghly, Damodar and Rupnarayan forever, pisciculturists point out.

The hilsa is a seafish that enters the rivers to spawn when the sea turns turbulent during the monsoon.

Bangladesh has already imposed a ban on netting the baby hilsa and made it a punishable offence to sell the fish in markets. But, sadly, the minister pointed out, this side of the border has seen an alarming spurt in the sale of the variety.

An unusually high supply of baby hilsa, weighing between 200 and 500 g, has opened up a parallel hilsa market, with the price tag varying between Rs 50 and Rs 100.

Hilsa traders at the Howrah and Patipukur fish markets attribute the drop in prices to the spurt in the catch from the Hooghly and Rupnarayan rivers.

The variation in price does not depend on size but on the place of supply — Diamond Harbour, Kolaghat or Shankarpur.

The bigger hilsa, however, commands a price varying between Rs 270 and Rs 300 a kg. The Bangladeshi variety is still a stranger in most city markets. The rare ones sighted and snapped up are reported to be tasteless.

Insufficient netting at Cox’s Bazar and Barishal is said to be the main reason behind the short supply from Bangladesh.

According to pisciculturists in the state fisheries department, the baby hilsa must be allowed to grow and then be caught if the fish is to be saved from extinction.

The hilsa trade is a Rs 800-crore market in the state and its import is pegged at about Rs 100 crore a year. About 50,000 kg of hilsa is brought in from Bangladesh. The Union government does not levy a tax on its import.

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