A 22-day ban on the catching and netting of hilsa is currently in force. The ban covers a 7,000-kilometre area and is intended to promote the breeding of the fish in uninterrupted manner. There is no question that people will welcome the move as they have in the past. With hilsa it is particularly important because it is much in demand and Bengalis in the subcontinent and elsewhere consider the fish not only as a delicacy but also as part of their cultural heritage. A specific characteristic of the hilsa is that it is definitively common to Bangladesh, indeed its rivers, and is known for the gastronomic delight it causes at lunch or dinner in Bengali homes. Even in the Indian state of West Bengal, the hilsa is a fish much to be relished, of course if the Bangladesh authorities are willing to export it to Bengalis in that part of what once was a united whole.
That said, it is of critical importance that the ban on hilsa catching and netting is rigorously enforced. We have in the past observed some serious violations of similar bans, with the authorities unable to take punitive measures on a large scale. As a result, the hilsa as also other fish earmarked for similar breeding were seen on sale. Such circumstances need to be reversed. In conditions where the authorities, especially the fisheries ministry and its associated departments, are unable to enforce their edicts owing to a lack of adequate manpower backed by force, other measures need to be taken.
Rivers, lakes and beels where the fish are cultivated or protected must be the responsibility of local leaders and social activists. There are village and union councils which can deploy men to keep careful watch on any infringement of the rules. It is common practice for some people, predatory in instinct, to indulge in netting hilsa and other fish at night, away from the public eye. At such times, therefore, the relevant local authorities can put up vigils in areas where the ban on hilsa netting is in force.
Together with such steps, the authorities should send out messages aimed at generating public awareness about the need to conserve our fish population. Radio, television and newspapers can be powerful media to send out the message. At the same time, students in schools and colleges should be enlightened on the issue.