Vol. 5 Num 923 Sun. December 31, 2006  
Letters to Editor

Stop catching Jatka

Hilsha is the national fish of Bangladesh. Its unique taste and nutritional value has made it the most popular fish not only in Bangladesh but around many parts of the world too. But the production of Hilsha has declined tremendously over the years. It is now hardly possible even for a middle-class family to buy a good-size Hilsha, thanks to the awfully exorbitant price, whereas in the recent past, the majority of common people were dependent on Hilsha to fulfill their nutritional demand throughout the year.

According to the Department of Fisheries, about 125,000 metric tons of Jatka (Hilsha fry) are caught every year which seems to be the major cause of the fall of Hilsha production. As outlined in the yearbook of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the production of Hilsha fish in major rivers has been declining tremendously since 1990. After about 50% fall of the production from 77,325 metric tons in 1989-1991 to 44,672 metric tons in 1990-91, the production increased in a gradual manner up to 1995-1996 (61,289 metric tons). But thereafter the production has been declining in a continuous process up to the recent years and in 1999-2000 it was only 49,786 tons. Although the data for the following years could not be collected, it can easily be apprehended that the production has further declined to a great extent for which there has been continuous scarcity of Hilsha in the markets and thus its price has already gone beyond the reach of common people. If this trend of production fall continues, the national fish of our country will be extinct from the major rivers in the near future, maybe by the year 2025.

Contrary to the above, by saving only 10% Jatka, the production of Hilsha could be 540,000 metric tons (540,000 metric tons from saved Jatka and existing 40,000 metric tons) in the first year considering the weight of one Jatka as 50 grams and a Hilsha with two kilogram at the time of catching. And if we can keep it up, the Hilsha production by the year 2025 will be 31,17,400 metric tons and per capita consumption will be 15.6 kilograms among the estimated 20 crore people which is only 0.3 kilogram at present with a population of 14 crore. Not only that, if we can do so, the production of other sweet-water fishes will also increase and our dependence on Hilsha will decline and a huge quantity of Hilsha then can be exported. Suppose if we can export only 25% of 31,17,400 metric tons Hilsha, we will be able to earn Tk 20,000 crore in a year.

Hilsha seems to be the most nutritious fish in Bangladesh containing the highest range of 200-400 kilo calorie per 100 gram of fish along with 273 kilo calorie energy, 180-200 mg calcium, 22 gram protein and 19-35 gram fat. Few years ago, majority of people had been used to take Hilsha as the main curry throughout the year. During fall, the people were used to buy salted-Hilsha to meet their demand of fish. It maybe recalled that salted-Hilsha contains more nutrition and other food values than fresh Hilsha. Such food-habit of people had played a vital role in the preservation of sweet-water fishes as they refrained from catching fishes indiscriminately from different sources of sweet water.

Let us see how we can increase the production of our national fish. The current nets should immediately be grabbed and burnt into ashes. There should be effective laws of the land and the persons responsible for such business should immediately be caught and awarded exemplary punishment so that none can dare to be involved in such businesses. Sufficient armed guards either from the Bangladesh Navy or from the Bangladesh Rifles should immediately be deployed in all the river ways. Catching Jatka should strictly be prohibited during 1 November to 31 May. If necessary the government can provide the fishermen some subsistence allowance during this period and when the situation will improve, the fishermen themselves will refrain from catching Jatka. Both 'Jatka' sellers and buyers should be arrested from the market or at least be fined on the spot by police. Vigilance teams should be formed in the areas from where fishermen catch Jatka.

The media should continue to publish news and articles on the negative sides of catching Jatka.