India wants Bangladesh to lift ban on Hilsa export

India is hopeful that Bangladesh will lift the ban on Hilsa fish exports after Ramadan.

The secretary of the Fish Importers' Association, Syed Anwar Maqsood, here said this while sharing the concern of fish traders with media here on Friday.

From time immemorial, Bengalis have been passionate about Hilsa fish, a strongly flavoured, white-fleshed fish known for its mouth-watering aroma while being cooked.

However, the dazzling silver creature that was declared the National Fish of Bangladesh upon the country gaining independence in 1971, now has become a rare sight on dining tables in Bangladesh itself due to rising prices.

Further, the domestic shortage experienced in Bangladesh has been attributed to huge and consistent demand from India.

Maqsood described the embargo as unfortunate.

"We were actually continuing with the import of Hilsa as usual; every year we do it. Our association does it. So, this year also, this season also we started it. Initially, the Hilsa catch in Bangladesh was also very poor, but two weeks ago, the catch was huge.

Every day we were having around 60 to 70 metric tones of Hilsa fish. All of a sudden, on July 31, the notification came that the Bangladesh Government has banned the export of not only Hilsa, but all kinds of fish. We were shocked by the decision, and so were our exporters in Bangladesh," said Maqsood.

He said that the Ministry of Commerce has requested its counterpart in Dhaka to lift the ban as it has hit the importers, their trade and above all the connoisseurs of Hilsa dishes.

A customer, Shoman Pal, said: "Definitely, both governments should take up the matter, so that this can be resolved in a positive way, and we can get the import of Hilsa in a greater way, in a greater quantity and on regular basis from Bangladesh."

Hilsa, known as 'ilish' in Bengali parlance, is mainly a sea species but prefers to lay its eggs in rivers due to absence of salinity and lesser current.

It is caught in all major Bangladeshi rivers, such as the Padma, Meghna and Jamuna, and their estuaries leading to Bay of Bengal.

According to Department of Fisheries, Bangladesh produced 340,000 tonnes of Hilsa in 2010-11.

India imports Hilsa through legal channels although the illegal trade is much larger, traders say, since it's cheaper and also much less complicated because they bypass customs checks.

In 2011, the Department of Fisheries in Bangladesh, 5,376 tonnes of Hilsa was exported to India alone out of total 8,500 tonnes in the fiscal year. The rest went to the ethnic Bangladeshi markets in Europe and America.

But the actual exports are likely to be much higher due to active smuggling along the river borders between India and Bangladesh, which are impossible to completely control.

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