|Published : 14 Oct 2016, 22:24:30|
Return of old hilsa days
The happy hunting days of hilsa, the national fish of the country, are poised to stage a comeback, thanks to stringent government measures taken over a few years now. Strict government steps on restricting the catch of hilsas, along with a favourable weather, led to a bumper yield of the fish. There was a drastic fall in its earlier formidable price, and also an increase in its size. Against this backdrop, the government has slapped a more extensive ban on hilsa catch, taking the prohibition period to 22 days from the previous 15. This year the ban comes into effect from October 12. Intended to protect hilsa breeding, the ban covers the fish's catch, sale, hoarding and its transportation. The prohibition will apply to an area of 7,000 square kilometres that include rivers in 27 districts. Coastal areas and estuaries in the districts also come under the ban. A fishing ban has been in force since 2003-04 to protect hilsa spawning.
The extension of the period of the ban to ensure the fish's safe breeding speaks of the firm intent on the part of the government to keep the brightening hilsa outlook up. A lot of its success, however, depends on the effective continuation of the vigilance seen during the last ban. In order to see this season's high yield remains in place, all the steps directed at protecting hilsa breeding ought to be better-implemented. They should also be more foolproof. This caveat stems from botched-up and/or sloppy handling of similar matters in the past. Unlike the country's sweet-water fishes, mother hilsas begin swimming upstream from the Bay of Bengal towards the rivers, weeks before the full moon every October. They return to the sea after spawning. Owing to this unique nature of their spawning, good catches of hilsa warrant a breeding-conducive condition. It prevailed in the country in the past. Mindless and indiscriminate catching of the fish, especially the mother hilsas and the young ones, resulted in an alarming drop in hilsa catches. Pollution of rivers and their increased siltation added to the deterioration in hilsa population.
That the long-awaited return of hilsa to the country's rivers should be given utmost priority at policy-making level is axiomatic. Along with government measures to ensure safe spawning of the fish, involvement of people with hilsa-catching and dependent areas should also be given importance. In this regard awareness building has no substitutes.
Hilsa experts have recently highlighted the hardship hitting fishermen with the fishing ban in place strictly. As they belong to the rural poor, a total stop to their catch for weeks deprives them of their regular income flow. They have to turn to exploitative loans. Experts suggest the fishermen be brought under the social safety net. This year the hilsa catches reached such an amazing height that the high yield resulted in loss-making gluts in a few places. Construction of adequate hilsa storage infrastructure has thus become an imperative for averting such setbacks in the future. Moreover, the increase in hilsa yields has once again brought to focus the issue of tapping the potential of hilsa export.