In a significant stride towards becoming self-reliant in the production of hilsa (ilish), the State Fisheries Department will now take up the cultivation of the fish in ponds and rivers.
The department has signed an agreement with a Norwegian company. The company has been successful in cultivating salmon in pond and river water, and is helping the State Government in replicating that success for hilsa.
The department gradually wants to stop importing the fish from Myanmar, which is much more than gastronomy for a Bengali. Ilish, as hilsa is called in Bengali, is about identity, history and nostalgia.
Hilsa is a significant component of open-water capture fishery in Bengal, contributing about 19 per cent of the total fish landing in the Hooghly-Matla estuarine system.
Over the years, due to wanton exploitation, pollution and habitat destruction, there has been a decline in the availability of hilsa.
One of the measures to combat this was the setting up, inspired by the vision of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee with regard to self-reliance in hilsa, of the country's first ever dedicated Hilsa Conservation and Research Centre (HCRC) at Sultanpur in Diamond Harbour in December 2013 by the Fisheries Department.
The department is in the process of setting up two similar HCRCs in Tribeni in Hooghly district, located on the bank of the Hooghly, and Farakka in Murshidabad district, on the bank of the Ganga.
The catching, marketing and transportation of fishes less than 23 cm in length is banned in the state. The Fisheries Department has put in place vigilante teams in all the concerned districts for keeping regular vigil on markets and landing centres. Special raids are conducted during the designated ban period between September 15 and October 24 each year. The department also maintains coordination and synergy with laboratories and institutes working on hilsa fishery.
The department also takes awareness campaigns for hilsa conservation, by distributing leaflets, putting up banners and posters, and conducting boat and road rallies in areas where the fish is netted by fishermen.
The fish is anadromous, that is, migrates up rivers from the sea to spawn, during the periods from June to September and from January to April.