A sojourn in the land of hilsa
The popular fish regains abundance after government steps to save jatka
Dear readers, to witness the enrichment of hilsa, I went to Chandpur a couple of days back. For your kind information, there are no worries regarding the growth of hilha, unlike the past. Now, our national fish has regained abundance and it comprises more than one tenth of the total fish production in our country.
Starting my journey from Sadarghat on the morning of January 23, I reached Chandpur at 9:00am. From there, I took the ride on a research ship, ‘MV Rupali Ilish’ of Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute to reach the heart of the Meghna river through the Dakatia river. I already had talks with Senior Scientific Officer of the institute, Dr Anisur Rahman. He prepared everything before my arrival. Chief Scientific Officer Dr Masud Hossain Khan was also there.
During 2015-16 fiscal year, the production of hilsa rose to four lakh thousand tonnes. It was 3.87 lakh during 2014-15. It means the production has increased a lot. During the season of hilsa, we see plenty of this variety around our cities. Even during the off season, we can see them and they are available at our markets. Our ship was moving on the waters of the mighty Meghna and I could notice small fishing boats. I reached one of the major breeding spots of jatka (hilsa fry). This is one of the five most significant sanctuaries of jatka.
Scientists say, the rivers have plenty of natural food for hilsa but as the navigability of the river is going down, hilsa fish can’t move frequently and freely. From Shatnol of Chandpur to Laxmipur’s Char Alexander is one such sanctuary set over 100 km. The other sanctuaries are facing the same problem. The sanctuaries are located in Bhola district’s Madanpur Char Ilsha to Char Pial; 90 km area on Meghna river’s Shahbazpur branch; from Bheduria in Bhola to Char Rustam of Patuakhali; 100 km area in Tetulia river; Patuakhali’s Andharmanik river’s 40 km water area inside Kolapara upazila; 20 km area of the lower Padma river in Shariatpur district and 60 km area in Hijla region of the Meghna river in Barisal district.
As you all know, the government has taken a new project, ‘One district, one product’. This country has diverse items in different districts. We look at these traditions and heritages indistinctively. And, as we don’t project the unique features of our districts, people do not get to know much of our beloved country as a whole. That’s why I feel, ‘One district, one product’ is a great initiative. And, I feel honoured that this has started from my home district Chandpur. On Friday, Chandpur district administration arranged a special programme on branding the district with its products, with special focus on hilsa fish. They’re calling the event, ‘Ilish’er Bari Chandpur’. Thanks to Chandpur Deputy Commissioner Abdus Sabur Mandal who has made it possible.
Since my childhood, I have seen the abundance of hilsa, its culture and taste. I have been to Chandpur many times although I live in Dhaka. I couldn’t always manage time to visit my home in Chandpur but for journalistic purpose, I went to Chandpur to see how hilsa is found in abundance, in all these forty years of my work.
The day I went to the Meghna, not much of hilsa was in the river as it’s not the season. And most of those available are small sized ones. I accompanied fishermen to the deeper Meghna to net hilsa with them.
Finally, the fishermen got hold of some hilsas in their nets. Under the sun, the silver hilsas were glittering and shining and the scene was extremely nostalgic for me. I saw the hilsas die when they see the sunlight when I was a kid. But now things have changed. I got one in my hand it was alive for quite a long time.
“What’s the condition of hilsa?” I asked a fisherman on the mighty river.
“We don’t get many at this time as this isn’t the season,” he replied.
“But the number and amount of fishes have increased quite a lot,” he added.
This has happened due to the government’s prudent measure to protect mother hilsa fish by imposing a bar on netting hilsa at particular times of the year.
Dr Anisur Rahman says, the production has increased due to the wise protection concept of mother hilsa.
“Over the past years, we couldn’t find hilsa during January-February, but now this has become a ‘minor season’ for the popular fish,” added Dr Rahman.
On a positive note, I would like to add the hilsas can now preserve eggs for 22 days and can travel from seas and then cross through Meghna, Padma, Mohananda and Jamuna rivers and even Hakaluki Haor area. As they can keep the spawning on, this year, around 41,000 tonnes of jatka (young hilsa) has joined in to make the hilsa population even more. If these added number can get the opportunity grow, you can guess, what amount of fish we can get this season. New technologies have also joined in the Fisheries Research Institute. They conduct research on the natural food, water ingredients, ammonia etc in the river water.
“The breeding grounds are pretty well intact and perfect for more hilsa,” says PhD researcher, Harun Ar Rashid.
What I feel most is not to get our river waters polluted. After roaming around the river, I went to the famous hilsa market, famously known as hilsa ghat. The marketers are also happy and they take extreme pride in selling hilsa. The salt has increased in the sea water, and the amount of hilsa has kept on increasing.
Dear readers, three million people’s lives are intertwined with hilsa fish. Hilsa is in our culture, in our economy and in our literature. This world renowned variety of fish spends a little time in the river waters. And, Chandpur district’s Meghna river is one of those rivers, which is kind of a home to hilsa. What I deeply want to see is to see more and more hilsa fish in our country. And, I also would like to see hilsa securing an even stronger stake in our national economy. What we need urgently to make this possible, are, an independent hilsa research institute; a more effective survey system at our hilsa sanctuaries; to ban completely all the illegal nets immediately, still which are left; to ensure navigability of rivers where hilsas can roam and grow faster.
We have got to keep this in our minds, if we can’t preserve these roaming spots of hilsa, our national identity will be at stake. And, we will lose the pride of our Bangali culture and taste.