Hooked on the hilsa

Dig into it once and you are hooked for life on the hilsa, a fish for which Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is willing to break his vegetarian vow. It is loved by Bengalis on both sides of the border.

Hilsa, considered the 'national fish' of Bangladesh, is a gourmet's delight and a taste that those who love fish crave for.

"Yes, hilsa is very much important for Bangladesh," Md. Aminul Islam of the Bangladesh Agricultural University told IANS.

Waiter serving Hilsa fish. Pic/Deshakalyan Chowdhury

It is a sea fish that migrates to the rivers for spawning, but now faces a fishing overkill.

Manmohan Singh has said before coming here that Bangladesh's famed hilsa fish may prompt him to break his vegetarian status.

"I am willing to break my vegetarian vow because I have heard about the delicious dish of hilsa fish.

"I am vegetarian ... (but) I am willing to make that exception."

The fish is so critical to the Bengali palate that Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of India's West Bengal state, had shot off a missive to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to help lower the price of Bangladeshi hilsa.

In July this year, a steady flow of the fish from Bangladesh as well as from within India brought down prices from around Rs.1,000-1,200 a kg to almost Rs.500, much to the relief of Bengalis in India.

Between July and September, the consumption of the fish is almost 100 tonnes per day in West Bengal, with 70 percent of the requirement fulfilled by imports from Bangladesh. The rest is from the catch at Digha and Diamond Harbour and Mumbai.

Bangladesh, which is criss-crossed by hundreds of rivers, has rich marine and fresh water resources.

A research project said that the hilsa is the single most valuable fishery in Bangladesh. In the year 2005-06, about 11 percent of the country's total fish production came from hilsa.

While the body length of the fish may reach up to 60 cm, but commonly found specimens measure 35 to 40 cm. A large-sized hilsa weighs about 2.5 kg.

Females are usually larger than males. It is known to be a fast swimmer.

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