This monsoon, Hilsa fish is disappearing from the menu of lower and middle income groups with its price shooting up to ` 750 a kg.
It is the result of the rapidly dwindling population of the fish due to factors such as changing fishing patterns, over exploitation, dumping of industrial and domestic waste into water bodies, construction of dams and siltation. “We love to eat hilsa. But I rarely dare to buy it these days due to the exorbitant price,” said Ashok Jena, a bank officer in Kendrapara.
Rabi Narayan Patnaik, the additional director of fisheries (marine) at Kujang, said unlike other fishes, hilsa cannot be bred through aquaculture because of its peculiar habitat. Hilsa’s disappearance has major financial implications for the fishermen. “An adult hilsa swims several kilometres upstream to freshwater for spawning. The eggs hatch in freshwater and the sub-adult hilsa flows downstream. The adult hilsa entering rivers from the Bay of Bengal are being netted during its upstream migration. This change in the fishing pattern is also believed to have contributed to the crisis,” added Patnaik.
A fishery officer said, earlier the fishermen community didn’t fish during the breeding season. Other communities catching the hilsa don’t follow this practice, he added. “Scanty rainfall has led to low water-level in rivers thereby also affecting the population of the fish. Unfortunately, hilsa production today faces obstacles due to excessive catching of the fish, particularly baby hilsa of less than 9 inches or 23 cm,” added the fishery officer.
A fish vendor Anatha Behera of Kendrapara said if mindless fishing continues, some years down the line hilsa will become extinct.