June 02, 2005


The Bengalis know how important Hilsha (Ilish in Bengali) fish is to them. Its unique taste and nutritional value have made it a popular fish not only in Bangladesh but in many parts of the world too. It is the national fish of Bangladesh. The Indian Bengalis and the Bengali expatriates all over the world would pay almost anything to have Hilsha in their plate. Hilsha is a deep sea fish and usually caught in the estuaries (where river meets ocean) of the Bay of Bengal, where they come to lay eggs. The big rivers Padma, Meghna and Jamuna are the providers of the most Hilshas and Padma Hilsha is the most famous for its taste.

However, in the recent decade Hilsha production has fallen drastically (almost half) due to overfishing of the small fishes. With the introduction of small hole nylon nets (known as 'current net') fishermen achieved high yields of all sizes of Hilsha. But this has disrupted their reproduction cycle and hence the production has fallen. A study shows that Hilsha is the most nutritious fish in Bangladesh containing the highest range of 200-400 kilo calorie per 100 g of fish along with high rate of energy (1,100-1,700/g), calcium (180-310), protein (21-38/g), and fat (19-35/g). So it can help poor children suffering from malnutrition if consumed regularly.

But the price of Hilsa has become out of reach of the low income groups of Bangladesh because of high demand and low supply. A significant portion of the Hilsha is exported to India and other countries of the world. Officially Bangladesh exports about 5000 tons of Hilsha each year to India, but through smuggling racket additional 8000 tons reach Indians' plates. From a meager annual production of 40000 tons a year that is a hefty portion. So there is a shortage of Hilsha in Bangladesh. The government is keen to increase the Hilsha production. It has introduced ban on fishing in some areas in their reproduction time and imposed punishment if the 'current net' is used to catch small size Hilshas.

Recently India has banned import of Hilsha fish from Bangladesh. That has sparked anger on the other side of the border. Meanwhile in Bangladesh prices have fallen by more than 25% due to increase in supply. The general people are happy that Hilsha fish is within their purchasing power now. But it remains to be seen as to what impact the Indian ban will make on the Hilsha exporters and the fishermen. Bangladesh will loose millions of dollars of foreign currency to start with.

Related: Recipes of some Hilsha delicacies.


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