Beating last year’s entire record in just four months, Lakshmipur Hilsa catchers target 38,000 tonnes of catch worth around Tk1000 crore this year
Fishermen in Lakshmipur caught 12,500 tonnes of Hilsa worth around Tk650 crore in the July-October period this year, which is more than double the entire yield of last year.
Fishermen, fisheries officers and traders have said that Hilsa trade in the country's southern district will cross Tk1,000 crore soon with the annual catch of 38,000 tonnes if the uptrend continues.
Anisur Rahman, chief scientific officer of Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute, River Centre Chandpur, said preservation of Hilsa fry and measures to protect brood Hilsa has helped increase the Hilsa size. This will gradually raise the level of production.
Fishermen and others are disappointed that though the district plays a crucial role in Hilsa production and employment, people do not know much about Lakshmipur Hilsa – mostly caught from the Meghna River.
"Around 80% of our catch goes to Dhaka and Chandpur and the fish are sold as Hilsa from Padma River", said Lakshmipur fisherman Safik Ullah.
Though Hilsa is found in coastal areas and in major rivers of the country, the local fish market is obsessed with catches from the Padma River. Hilsa from the river has a phenomenal taste and flavor, and its price is usually higher than other catches.
Lakshmipur Hilsa traders are also critical of government data. In their opinion, the district produces way too much more fish than what the government estimates put about.
In Lakshmipur, people related to at least 13 other professions indirectly depend on the burgeoning Hilsa business due to lucrative market prices, rising production and people's age-old attraction to the fish. It is especially people on the coastal islands and char areas of the district who are mostly dependent on Hilsa catching.
Kamalnagar fishing net trader Munsur Mollah said Hilsa businesses involve other professions, such as investors in fishing boats, wholesalers and hoarders, transport workers, fish traders and small vendors, ice factory workers,net manufacturers and sellers and small grocers on the riverbank.
"Hilsa is the lifeblood for all of them," he added.
The fish is found almost in all the five upazilas of Lakshmipur, but the catch is good in the Meghna at Ramgati and Kamalnagar. Locals said the district has 88 kilometers of the Meghna stretch. The vast riverbank has 25 Hilsa selling points where the catches change hands.
According to the Lakshmipur district fisheries office, the southern Bangladesh district produced 20,380 tonnes of Hilsa in the 2019-20 fiscal year– or 56 tonnes of catch on average per day. Production in the four months till October this year rose to 12,500 tonnes, with a daily average of more than 104 tonnes.
In the meantime, two local fishtraders'association leaders, Abdur Rab and Mehedi HasanLiton, claim that the fisheries office's report on the production of about 104 tonnes of Hilsa per day is not correct. According to them, over 100 tons of Hilsa are sold every day from four major selling points of the district alone.
Local fish trader Md Nasir Uddin said he takes one tonne of Hilsa to Dhaka or Chandpur at least three days a week. After his Hilsa arrives in Chandpur or Dhaka, they are sold as Hilsa from the Padma.
According to the fishermen, traders and the fisheries department, there are 50,252 fishermen in Lakshmipur and of them 40,000 are Hilsa catchers. Local fish traders' association leader Md Mahmudar Rahman Belayet said that at least 2,000-3,000 people are involved in various occupations at each Hilsa selling point, apart from district-level fish businesses.
Mohammad Billal Hossain, Lakshmipur district senior fisheries officer, said 80% of the Hilsa caught in the district goes to Dhaka and Chandpur.
On the discrepancies between field-level and fisheries office data, he said the fisheries authorities are updating data regularly on the basis of inputs provided by their selling point and field level staffers.