Hilsa prices soar to Rs 1,000 per kg as shrinking Narmada and Hooghly make breeding difficult AHMEDABAD/KOLKATA: Millions of average Bengalis - and others - will have to do without their favourite fish this season as hilsa prices have shot through the Rs 1,000 per kg mark due to a sharp decline in daily catch in both Hooghly and Narmada rivers. On Tuesday, in Kolkata's Manicktala market, hilsa was selling at Rs 1,000-1,500 a kg, depending on the quality and size. "This season the supplies have been very less, leading to a sharp increase in prices. Till yesterday there were no local supplies and we were dependent on the Bharuch market of Gujarat for hilsa fish. Even the supplies from Bangladesh had stopped," said Mohammed Amin Khan, owner of Quality Fish Company in the Howrah fish market of Kolkata. In Mumbai, the prized fish was quoted at Rs 800-1,000 a kg. And in wholesale markets of Kolkata, it was selling for Rs 500-1,200 per kg, 50-60 per cent costlier than last year. The culprit? A fall in availability of fresh water in the estuaries of Hooghly in the east and Narmada in the west due to poor rainfall and industrial pollution, which restrained hilsa from migrating to these rivers for breeding. "Scanty rainfall accompanied with the absence of flood pulse (the annual seasonal flooding of low-lying areas near major rivers) has prevented hilsa fish from breeding in the estuaries of Hooghly," said Utpal Bhaumik, head (riverine division) of the Kolkata-based Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute. Hilsa catch has plummeted The hilsa catch from Hooghly river plummeted to 20,000 tonnes in 2011-12 from 60,000 tonnes in the previous year, according to statistics available with the institute. Bhaumik said the number this year is significantly low although Cifri has not yet come out with hilsa catch figures. "Fishermen are now using nets with small mesh size to catch small hilsa fish that are entering the estuaries, thereby not allowing them grow," he said. To improve the situation, Cifri has written to the West Bengal government to declare three hilsa breeding zones in Hooghly river as sanctuaries, which will ban fishing in those areas. Things are not much better on the western cost either, as supplies from Bharuch market too have nosedived. Yaku Mohammedbhai Malu of Sajid Fish Company in Bharuch Fish Market said their weekly supply of hilsa has slipped to 25-50 boxes of 50 kg each now, from more than 1,000 boxes around the same time last year. "The blame is to be put on the increase in industrial pollutants in Narmada river," Malu said. "Also, with the increase in the height of Sardar Sarovar Dam, downstream water flow has fallen," he added. Acknowledging the problem, a Gujarat fisheries department official said fishermen have been facing the problem of poor catches since the past 3-4 years. Madanbhai Budhya, a fisherman from Bhadbhut village in Bharuch district, said he did not get a single catch in the Narmada estuary this season (July-August) till last week. "It is only 4 days ago that I was able to catch 40 fish," he said, adding that he got a price of Rs 350 per kg, which was good. "We pray for continuous supplies," Budhya said. Fishermen in Kolkata's outskirts of Diamond Harbour, Namkhana, Raidighi and Kakdweep say catches are improving and prices may correct soon. "Today over 10 tonnes of hilsa fish from these fishing villages were sent to the Howrah fish market. We expect the catches to increase and prices to correct," said Pramod Shaw, a fisherman from Diamond Harbour. The hilsa shad spends most of its life in the inshore areas of the sea and undertakes extensive migration ascending estuaries and rivers for breeding. Older hilsa, spawning for the second and third time, migrate to the higher reaches. Younger hilsa, making their first spawning migration, are more susceptible to changes in salinity and spawn in the lower stretches of the river. Goutam Kumar Sen, professor at the School of Oceanography of Jadavpur University, said this year hilsa fish largely migrated to rivers of Bangladesh and adjoining areas instead of Hooghly for breeding because fresh water availability is better there due to good monsoon. That is showing in Bangladesh with hilsa catch expected to rise to 3 lakh tonnes this year from 2.6 lakh tonnes last year.