Bangalee life with or without Hilsha

Nilratan Halder | Published: September 07, 2018 22:10:58

Hilsha fishing is at its utmost peak around this time every year. This year the timing has been on the spot. The catch is overwhelmingly good. One report has it that with the pulling of the net each time in the sea, flocks of the Bangalees' favoured fish dazzle the eyes. This is in total contrast with the continuous lean fishing seasons fishermen experienced in the recent past. Now they are overjoyed by the loads of fish they catch in the sea off the Chattogram coast.

Similar news came a little earlier about Hilsha fishing in the sea and estuaries in the south off the coast of Patuakhali. However, the fishing bonanza appears to have lasted not long enough there. What is highly disappointing is that the finest variety available in the river Padma has not been aplenty. Decades ago, tributaries to the Padma and Meghna in Madaripur and Barisal were also full of the finest specimen of Hilsha. Now most of those rivers have shrunk and there is no question of netting Hilsha there. Yet in recent years the country's total catch of the fish has gone up by leaps and bound.

What has transformed the supply line of this aquamarine migratory fish? It is the effective ban on the species' fishing during the breeding season. Sharing some common characteristics with its Atlantic cousin Salmon, Hilshas also cross estuaries to spawn in the sweet water of the country's rivers. If the fish is caught then, breeding is seriously hampered. Unlike Salmon, Hilsha does not cross thousands of miles to the place of their birth to spawn and die immediately afterwards. This means, the fish can be netted safely after it has laid eggs in the rivers. The gain is that the eggs turn into millions of fingerlings. Thus the mother fish has secured its and the species' future. Surely, the government deserves kudos for this excellent move.

For some years, Hilsha catch declined precariously largely because of indifference to the unplanned fishing. Ever since the government came up with a clear plan of saving mother Hilsha until they have safely spawned, the fish population both in rivers and the Bay of Bengal started growing at an accelerated pace. During the crisis of Hilsha, it was a luxury for the average Bangalee to have a treat of this fish. Some had an apprehension that the fish might go extinct. Only the fortunate few could afford a dish of this fish on the menu.

Thank God, the Bangalees have learnt a lesson the hard way. The government even had to distribute some financial assistance to the needy fishermen during ban on fishing. Then there had to be a similar ban on catching the small fries. The two-month ban hurts poor fishermen but it gives rich dividends to the entire nation. Now even people down the rank can afford a Hilsha costing in the lowest bracket of Tk 300-400. However, gone are the days when amateur catchers from far and near tried their hands at fishing this precious species. Some made a dash to Arial Khan or Madhumati from places where rivers are foreign to people. The amateur team would take with them some rice, the barely necessary cooking utensils and spices. They would spend a couple of days on the boat and catch fish to their heart's content. Cooking a fish immediately after pulling it out of the water is an experience itself. The taste is heavenly no matter how naïve the cooks are in the art of cooking.

Those who were fortunate to be part of such a fishing expedition will never forget how romantic and thrilling it was. Professional fishermen cannot feel the sensation because they are habituated to it. But for those who ventured into rivers for seasonal fishing could feel with their entire mortal frame the sensation of hauling the silvery beauty into their boats. Those days will never return. How life changes!

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