Ilish production in the country has increased considerably over the past few years, but the “King of Fish” remains too expensive for most people.
A firsthand exploration of fishing hubs and fish markets unveiled a noteworthy surge in ilish supply compared to the previous week, but the change in price was minimal. Fishing hubs and markets in Dhaka were offering almost the same price as before, while there was a slight reduction in prices at markets in Cox’s Bazar due to more ilish being caught in the sea.
Traders claimed several factors contributed to the high price, including delayed ilish availability, taste disparity between river and sea ilish, escalating fuel oil prices, and elevated transportation expenses.
Our correspondents found ilish weighing 1-1.2kg being sold for Tk1,500-1,600 per kg at Kawran Bazar, one of the largest kitchen markets of the capital. Fish of around the same weight caught from the sea or rivers by the sea were being sold for Tk1,100-1,200 per kg in Cox’s Bazar and Chandpur.
However, ilish caught in the Padma River was selling at Tk1,600 per kg in Chandpur as well.
The smell and taste of ilish is different from other fish due to the high content of certain types of fatty acids. Sea ilish contain less of these fatty acids, as ilish fish consume a large amount of plankton after swimming up river.
After a 65-day ban on fishing in the Bay ended on July 23, the market has been abuzz with the presence of fishermen, traders and workers related to ilish fish.
Mehdi Hasan Niloy, who came to buy ilish at Karwan Bazar on Friday, told Dhaka Tribune: ”For middle income class people like us, ilish is very expensive. That is why I’m looking at other options to fulfil our protein needs.”
When contacted, Fisheries and Livestock Minister SM Rezaul Karim said: “We are working to ensure the production rate of ilish fish by assisting fishermen through various programs, including food aid during the fishing ban time.
“If you ask about the price of ilish, then my ministry has nothing to do with it as we cannot monitor the market. The Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) and other government bodies can talk about the price, because they are the monitoring authority. If there is a syndicate behind the ilish price, the monitoring authority can take action against them,” he added.
What do traders say?
Two businessmen of Kawran Bazar – Ujjwal and Md Alamin – were selling ilish weighing 300 and 400 grams from Barisal at Tk600 and Tk700, respectively. They complained that the quantity of fish was low, so the price was high.
A businessman named Manoj Dey said, “Apart from the fish crisis, there is the truck hire, porter hire, van hire, and labour costs. All together, it costs a lot of money per basket,”
Krisna Rajbonshi, another businessman, said: “Prices are high because there is not enough fish coming to the market. The fish is being selectively moved across. There is less fish available here, which is why the prices are high.”
When asked about the increase in fish supply and high price, President of the Fish Harvesting Association of Karwan Bazar Md Kamal Hossain said: “The supply of fish is very low. In the last season, 2,000 maunds of fish were coming daily, and now one third of that amount is coming.”
About the prices in Dhaka compared to other divisions, he said: “Fish comes here from all parts of Bangladesh. We consider the market price when buying fish, the price of fish sold in a district does not determine our price.
“However, when there is less fish, the demand of the district isn’t met. If the district cannot meet its own demand, how will the fish come to Dhaka?” he asked.
Fish Traders Association of Chapur General Secretary Shabe Barat said: “This Friday, almost 50,000 tourists came here at Chadpur on a visit to taste the real ilish, but we could afford give all of them the real ilish.”
Barisal District Fisheries Officer (ilish) Dr Bimal Das said: “A fair amount of fish is being caught here, but there are more sea fish. The river fish will take some time to come. In the last month, 25-30 thousand tons of fish arrived in Barisal.”
He said: “In a free market economy, neither we nor the government can set the price of fish. Fishermen will catch fish and sell them according to their cost. However, when a sufficient quantity of fish starts coming into the market, the price will come down a bit. Moreover, due to the improved communication system, fish are quickly reaching different parts of the country. Due to this, the demand for fish has increased.”
Ilish production rising every year
Bangladesh is first among 11 countries in the world that harvest ilish. It is called the national fish and geographical indication product of Bangladesh. This also is widely popular not only in Bangladesh but also in many other countries for its unique taste and smell.
About 700,000 people of Bangladesh are directly involved in ilish fishing, and 2-2.5 million people are indirectly involved by making nets and other netting equipment, ice making, transportation, marketing, sales, and other areas.
According to the official data, the production of ilish in the financial year 1999-20 stood at 219,000 tons, and it had increased to 567,000 tons in the last financial year 2021-22.
According to Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute, the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) of ilish is currently 702,000 tons.
ilish schooling usually takes place in coastal areas, and the fish is available up to 1,200-1,300km upstream from the mouth of the sea, and up to 250 km from the coast.
At present, ilish is found in 100 rivers and streams of 38 districts, including the sea, estuaries and coasts of the country. However, six coastal districts of the country are known as ilish sanctuaries.
* 100km of the Meghna river from Shatanal in Chandpur district to Char Alexander in Lakshipur district.
* 90km the Sahabajpur Branch River from Madanpur Char Ilisha to Char Piyal in Bhola district.
* About 100km of the Tetulia river from Veduria in Bhola district to Char Rustom in Patuakhali district.
* The entire 40km of the Andharmanik River in Kalapara Upazila of Patuakhali District
* 20km between Naria and Vedarganj upazilas of Shariatpur district and Matlab upazila of Chadpur district.
* About 82km of the Kalabadar and Ghazaria Meghna rivers of Hijla, Mehendiganj and Barisal Sadar upazilas of Barisal district.