Pulasa Fish2

The Story of the Hilsa

The Ilish, also known as Hilsa, is a popular food amongst the people of South Asia and in the Middle East, and especially with Bengalis. It is the national fish of Bangladesh. Bengali fish curry is a popular dish made with mustard oil or seed. It is also popular in India, especially West Bengal, Odisha, Tripura, Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Southern Gujarat and in Mizoram, and it is also exported globally.

In North America (where ilish is not always readily available) other shad fish are sometimes used as an ilish substitute, especially in Bengali cuisine. This fish typically occurs near the East coast of North America, where fresh shad fish of similar taste can be found.

In Bangladesh, Hilsa is sourced from the Padma-Meghna-Jamuna delta, which flows into the Bay of Bengal and Meghna (lower Brahmaputra), and Jamuna rivers; in India, the Rupnarayan (which has the Kolaghater Ilish), Ganges, Mahanadi, Chilka Lake, Narmada and Godavari rivers are famous for Hilsa fishing;  in Pakistan, the Indus River is a source for the Hilsa fish. The freshwater fish are considered to be tastier than their marine variants. The fish has very sharp and tough bones, and might cause difficulty when eating for some.

Ilish is an oily fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Recent experiments have shown its beneficial effects in decreasing cholesterol and insulin level.

In Bengal, ilish can be smoked, fried, steamed, baked in young plantain leaves, prepared with mustard seed paste, curd, eggplant, different condiments like cumin. It is said that people can cook ilish in more than 50 ways. Ilish roe is also popular as a side dish. Ilish can be cooked in very little oil since the fish itself is laden with natural oils.

  • In Andhra Pradesh, the saying goes “Pustelu ammi ayina Pulasa tinocchu”, meaning it’s worth eating Pulasa/Ilish by even selling the nuptials.
  • In Bangladesh and West Bengal during Pohela Boisakh (the first day of the Bengali New Year),it is customary to have ilish with panta bhat (Fermented Rice) typically at breakfast The meal is the traditional way to celebrate the Bengali new year. In many Bengali Hindu families a pair of ilish fish (Bengali: Joda Ilish) are bought on auspicious days, for example during special prayers or puja days, some people offer the fish to the goddess Lakshmi, without which the Puja is considered to be incomplete. In Bengal, Ilish is also used during wedding as a Tattwa gift. During Gaye Halud tattwa the family of the groom presents a pair of Ilish to the family of the bride. However, due to the scarcity of Ilish nowadays, it is replaced by Rohu in West Bengal while the Tradition continues in Bangladesh.
  • In Tamil, Ilish fish is called ‘Ullam Meen’, and a saying in Tamil ‘Ulladhai Vitthu Ullam vangi sapidu’

A delicacy in its own right, the Hilsa holds great cultural and culinary import and holds a large fan-following nation-wide. Once you taste it, rest assured you’d never turn back. Such is the appeal of the enticing Hilsa.

hilsa fish 03 2

Inland Fish, Fisheries, Fisher-folks: 2020 Overview

Inland fisheries support millions of people and remains a major source of nutrition for a very large number of poorest people. This includes riverine fisheries, reservoir fisheries, wetland and local water body fisheries. Here we try to provide an overview of developments in this sector during the year 2020.

The overview has following sections: Policy & Governance in Centre, followed by in States, some positive developments, Covid-19 & Fishing Community, Fisher folks’ struggles, New Fish Species, Invasive fish, Fish Deaths & Pollution, Over fishing & Extinction, Studies related to inland fisheries.

FISHERIES STATISTICS The Union Ministry of Statistics and program implementation says this about Inland Fisheries statistics, see: http://mospi.nic.in/416-fisheries-statistics.
Current Status

1 Fisheries of India can be broadly classified into two types namely, marine fisheries and inland fisheries. The Fisheries Statistics Section of the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying in the Ministry of Agriculture is in charge of compiling the data relating to this sector. At present data on items like fish production, prawn production, fish seed production, disposal of fish catch, preserved and processed items and aquaculture are being collected from State Governments.

2 So far as inland fisheries are concerned, there were several attempts to develop suitable sampling techniques for estimation of catch since 1955, but they have remained inconclusive. The Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (CIFRI), Barrakpore lately devised a methodology for collection of data relating to some important still water areas. This involves dividing water sources into two categories namely, fresh water and brackish water bodies each with a distinct ecology, and classifying them further into three groups according to the level of production. Different sampling methods are adopted for assessment of fish production in each group. There is still a large data gap in coverage not only geographically but also in terms of several sources of inland fisheries such as rivers, canals, etc.


3 The data on fish production from the inland sector are collected by the State Governments. It is noticed that the resources required for regular data collection are quite large and the cost incurred is not commensurate with the actual volume of fish production. Inland fisheries pose several problems due to the vast and diverse nature of water sources and it is necessary to develop a cost-effective methodology. IASRI is presently engaged in some pilot studies in this regard but more concerted effort is urgently called for.

4 The data on fish production from aqua culture, supplied by the States, similarly suffer from poor quality and become available with considerable time lag. The types of culturing methods are not reflected in the data.

5 The data on fisherman population, fishing craft and gear are available from both the State Governments and the Livestock Census, while data on workers engaged in fishing are also available from the population census. However, the data from these sources are not comparable due to differences in concepts and definitions and their application across States.

6 There is an apparent inconsistency between the value of the output and the export earnings, the latter being much higher. An exploratory study is required to reconcile the discrepancy.

Conclusions and Recommendations

7 Since the CIFRI and the IASRI are involved in the development of sampling methodology for inland fisheries, the Commission considers that these institutes should be properly equipped to develop an alternative methodology. The alternative approach should also consider the possibility of undertaking enquiries of fishermen households wherever there is a large concentration of fishing especially along major riverbanks.

8 The Commission recommends that:

The survey methodology for estimating production of inland fisheries especially with regard to running water sources (rivers and canals) should receive urgent attention and the Indian Agricultural Statistics Research Institute (IASRI) along with the Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (CIFRI) should be provided with adequate support to develop this programme on a priority basis.

The States should improve the recording of area under still water by appropriate modification of land use statistics.

The discrepancies between the two sources of data namely, Livestock Census and State reports with regard to data on fishermen, fishing craft and gear should be reconciled by adoption of uniform concepts and definitions and review of these statistics at the district and State levels.

Handbook for fisheries statistics Union Minister released the handbook on fisheries statistics-2018 (The last (12th edition of) Handbook was published in 2014.) in India Sept 19, 2019. The Press Release from the Ministry of Fisheries on that occasion said among other things: The percentage contribution of inland fish production in the total fish production of 29% during the year 1950-51 and has increased to 71% in the year 2017-18. Andhra Pradesh has recorded the highest production of inland fish (34.50 lakh tones). The Fisheries sector is major source of livelihood for over 1.60 Crore people along with double the number in down and upstream. Development of fisheries can ensure nutritional security, food security of India and also provide employment in these regions that are predominately inhabited by rural populace. The total fish production of 12.59 million metric tonnes was registered during 2017-18 with a contribution of 8.90 million metric tonnes from inland sector. The average growth in fish production during 2017-18 stands at 10.14% when compared to 2016-17 (11.43 million metric tonnes). This is mainly due to 14.05% growth in Inland fisheries when compared to 2016-17 (7.80 million metric tonnes). India is currently world’s second largest producers of fish. It is also world number two in aquaculture production as well as in inland capture fisheries. The full handbook is available at: http://dof.gov.in/sites/default/files/2020-08/HandbookonFS2018.pdf.


Collapsing Hilsa: Economic, ecological and cultural impact of dams

Arguably, Hilsa is not just a tasty and healthy fish species that migrates from the sea up the river to spawn. It is a cultural icon that binds Bengalis, whether from West Bengal or Bangladesh, together in their shared love for Ilish Machch. Pohela Baishakh or the new year day’s meal is not complete without Ilish. Though Hilsa is celebrated fervently by the Bengalis, it is prized in all estuaries of South Asia, from Narmada, Mahanadi, Godavari, Cauvery to Indus and Irrawaddy and takes the name of  Chaski, Palva, Ilishii, Palla, Pulasa, etc. It is also found at confluence of Tigris and Euprates in Iran, where it is as prized and known as Sbour. The fish flavours several poems, folklore, songs and phraseologies of the entire South Asia. In cultural terms, the significance of Hilsa is comparable only to Salmon and Mahseer.

Ilish on Pohela Baishakh Photo: Flickr
Ilish fish and rice, a religious offering and cultural fare on Pohela Baishakh Photo: Flickr

Tenualosa ilisha, Hilsa or Indian Shad belongs to the sub family Alosinae of Family Clupeidae. Commercially, it is the most important fisheries in the estuaries, especially in the Ganga-Hooghly region.It occurs in marine, estuarine and riverine environments and is found in Indus of Pakistan, Irrawaddy of Myanmar and Indian rivers like Ganga, Bhagirathi, Hooghly, Rupanarayan, Brahmaputra, Godavari, Narmada, Cauvery, Tapti, coastal rivers like Padma, Jamuna, Meghana, Karnafuly and others in Bangladesh. It is seen to migrate up smaller estuaries like Pennar too.

Hilsa, by habitat, is a marine fish but migrates in estuaries and rivers for spawning, normally inhabiting the lower region of the estuaries and the foreshore areas of the sea. Hilsa ascends the rivers for spawning and the spent fish and their progeny migrate down the river towards lower estuaries and coastal areas, moving in shoals. The peak upstream migration of Hilsa in most of the rivers of the country is generally in the monsoons months of July and August and continues upto October or November. The spring spawners that enter the river for spawning in January-March return to the sea during July-August when these are caught in good numbers. The monsoon spawners that enter the river during September- October return to the sea after spawning and these spent fishes are caught in good numbers during January- March. Similarly, the off springs of spring-spawners make journey for the sea from the river during November- January, whereas the off springs of monsoon spawners return to the sea from the river during July- September. (Bhaumik et al, CIFRI, 2012)

Obstruction to undertaking this spawning migration by dams and barrages has been singled out as the primary reasons for the fall of Hilsa fisheries in India as well as Bangladesh. The trade of this commercially important fish species constitutes upto 1.5% of Bangaldesh’s National Gross Domestic Product and about 2 million fishers are estimated to depend on Hilsa fisheries in Gangetic estuaries. Till August 2014, Bangladesh has stopped Hilsa exports to India to contain astronomic price rises in Bangladesh as the costs of the fish are becoming uncontainable due to its cultural importance on one hand and dwindling supply on the other. India has requested Bangladesh to lift the ban of Hilsa export, but it is yet to relent, due to a number of socio-political reasons. [2]