Rupsa: Hilsa fish, known as the Salmon of India, has assumed a pride of place for its quality and taste. The fish caught in rivers Subarnarekha, Budhabalang and Jalaka in Balasore district are on demand by consumers in Odisha and outside. But a drastic drop in the catch of Hilsa in 2019 has brought to sharp focus the danger to the sea fish.
Locals residing along the banks of the rivers depend on Hilsa for their livelihood. Fishermen catch the fish from the river between June and December. The fish variety is exported to Mumbai, Siliguri, and Kolkata from Balasore. It is also exported to Bangladesh and other countries.
Hilsa catch has dwindled this year disappointing those whoHilsa had pinned their hopes on bountiful catch deep inside the sea.
Earlier, quintals of Hilsa were caught at this time, but now the catch has fallen in the present monsoon. A gillnet or a trawler manage to catch one or two Hilsa during a trip, said a fisherman. Hilsas are sensitive species. They live in salt water and swim to freshwater and estuarine waters to spawn. Hilsa love swimming upstream during the southwest monsoon when the rivers swell. The hatchlings go back to the sea and repeat the cycle.
However, a number of fishing boats and mechanized trawlers operating along the coast fish in excess of the sustainable limit and overexploit Hilsa population.
According to a recent study report, between 2002 and 2015, Hilsa catch went up by 13 per cent although the number of boats engaged in fishing increased by 25 per cent. Although the yield was progressively growing down over the years in Odisha, the price has shot up making the fish go beyond the reach of the common man’s dining table.
According to an official of Bahabalapur fishing centre, Hilsa yielded about 388 tonne in the district last year while the yield stood at 150 MT the previous year.
A kilogram of Hilsa sells for around Rs 1200 in Balasore and adjoining districts. A homemaker, Lili Sahoo, told reporters that it is impossible to buy hilsa when its price has sky-rocketed.
While 10 per cent catch is sold off in markets of Balasore district the bulk of the produce is dispatched to outside the country.
The fishermen said that they are bound to export Hilsa in high rate outside the country to compensate the expenses incurred during catching the hilsa.
Fishing in the sea takes up at least five to six days. Now-a-days, the crew hardly get five to 10 kg of Hilsa in one trip. Each trip on a mechanised vessel costs about Rs 10,000, including the fuel cost.
“The drop in the Hilsa yield is hitting us hard. We are compensating the Hilsa yield with other sea fish. That is forcing us to prolong our voyage. It is leading to additional cost of fuel,” a seagoing fisherman Praveer Sahoo said.
Experts are of the view that rise in pollution level along the water bodies connected to the Mahanadi river system, erratic monsoon and deficient rainfall have resulted in the disappearance of the itinerant Hilsa.
Fishermen association Secretary Gorachand Jena said, the peculiar habitat of Hilsa makes it impossible to breed it artificially through aquaculture, unlike other fish. Due to excess number of boates, especially the trawlers, overfishing is happened, so the government should set a limit of the trawlers or boats. The nets used by the fishermen with small mesh size trap juvenile or baby hilsa that could have become adults and spawned. This results in an overall decrease in catch. Climate change also adversely affects the growth of Hilsa fish.
Environmentalists have advised the government should take proper steps as it will increase the Hilsa production.