Bangladesh produces 86 per cent of the world's hilsas

Four years ago, Bangladesh was the source of 75 per cent of the hilsas of the world. These fish being caught now weigh 900g on an average.

Fishermen sort hilsas in Chattogram
Fishermen sort hilsas in ChattogramProthom Alo file photo
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Bangladesh now produces 86 per cent of the world’s total hilsa.

Four years ago, the country produced 65 per cent of the total production. During this period, production of the fish has consistently increased here while production decreased in neighbouring India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

This was revealed in a recent study by international fisheries organisation, WorldFish.

Bangladesh is followed by India and Myanmar in this regard. Five years ago, India produced 25 per cent of the world’s total hilsa which dropped to about 10 per cent this year. Myanmar’s contribution is about 3 per cent. The remaining hilsas were produced in Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and Pakistan.

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A two-day international research conference, organised by India’s Central Fisheries Research Institute, was held there on 10 and 11 September.

One of the topics of discussion in the conference was how hilsa production increased in Bangladesh. The key note was presented by Abdul Wahab, team leader of the eco-fish project of WorldFish in Bangladesh.

Focusing on the success of hilsa production in Bangladesh, Wahab said the model developed by government agencies in the country is being followed by many countries of the world.

The hilsa sanctuaries Bangladesh has set up in various rivers, have continuously increased the production of the fish, according to Wahab’s research article.

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The fisheries department along with Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute and WorldFish Bangladesh conducted the first study on the genetic characteristics and movement of hilsa.

Fishing is banned for 22 days from 7 to 28 October every year to protect the hilsas during the main breeding season of the fish. The government, under the social safety net programme, assists the enlisted fishermen during this period

According to the study, it was found that hilsas return to the river from the sea when they are adult. No matter how favourable the environment is in other rivers or reservoirs, hilsas return to their birthplace where their mothers had laid the eggs and they grew up as spawns.

As the rate of spawning is high in the sanctuaries in the country and the fish has an opportunity to grow here, hilsas are returning to the sanctuaries from the sea. But countries including India, Myanmar, Pakistan and Sri Lanka could not protect their mother and baby hilsas setting up such sanctuaries.

Earlier in 2016, a team of scientists from the fisheries department of the country and Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute said that the highest sustainable production of hilsa possible for Bangladesh could be 530,000 tonnes, but the country has exceeded that limit within four years. According to a survey by the fisheries department and WorldFish in November 2019, the sustainable production of hilsa in Bangladesh could be 670,000 tonnes.

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Fishing is banned for 22 days from 7 to 28 October every year to protect the hilsas during the main breeding season of the fish. The government, under the social safety net programme, assists the enlisted fishermen during this period. Experts recognise this programme having contributed to the hilsa production boost.

The steps taken to increase Bangladesh’s hilsa production have been based on scientific research. And the government agencies worked hand-in-hand with the law enforcement to ensure hilsa were not caught during the ban and that the hilsa sanctuaries were protected. We are reaping the success of that now.”
Yahya Mahmud, director general of the Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute

“The success is due to the halt in fishing of baby hilsas,” said fisheries and livestock minister SM Rezaul Karim. “The expansion and protection of the sanctuaries have also contributed to this. The production will further increase as the hilsa net design has been redefined.”

According to the fisheries department and the Fisheries Research Institute, Bangladesh this time has exceeded other countries too in terms of the weight of the fish. In 2014, the average weight of hilsa netted in the country was 510g whereas it was 915g in 2019.

The Fisheries Research Institute says the average weight could increase to 950g. Hilsas caught in India, Myanmar and or countries surrounding the Arabian Sea have an average weight of 500g-600g. According to the researchers and scientists, Bangladesh’s hilsa is the best in terms of nutrition and taste.

This year, hilsas are flooding the local markets since the beginning of the season and the average weight of the fish is higher than usual.

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Surveying the hilsa hubs from Barishal to Chattogram via Chandpur, it was noted that most of the hilsa in the markets were around 1 kg in weight. There were plenty of hilsa weighing 1.5 kg to 2 kg too.

President of the fish traders association at the Alipur hilsa unloading centre in Kuakata, Patuakhali, Ansar Ali Molla, said that sales were brisk as the weight of the fish was more than usual and the prices were comparatively low.

Director general of the Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute, Yahya Mahmud, told Prothom Alo, “All the steps taken to increase Bangladesh’s hilsa production have been based on scientific research. And the government agencies worked hand-in-hand with the law enforcement to ensure hilsa were not caught during the ban and that the hilsa sanctuaries were protected. We are reaping the success of that now.”

This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Nusrat Nowrin

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