The Department of Fisheries (DOF) could withdraw the export ban on Ilish after an abundant catch this season has produced enough of the fish to sell abroad for the first time in five years.
The fish is in high demand in India, particularly in West Bengal, prompting Delhi to make repeated appeals to Dhaka for a lifting of the ban introduced in 2012 in response to low stocks and a resulting price hike.
However, a DOF official said the total Ilish fish production could exceed 550,000 tons this season.
“We have proposed to resume export of the fish to West Bengal because of the huge demand,” the official said.
State Minister of Fisheries and Livestock Narayan Chandra Chanda told the Dhaka Tribune that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already been notified of the proposal to withdraw the export ban for Ilish.
He said the commerce ministry will take the decision about the export ban with permission from the prime minister.
According to a report from the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB), the price of one kilogram of Ilish has dropped by 16.67% from last year, returning it to within the reach of the masses.
At present, an Ilish fish weighing 500-700g sells for Tk500-800 while Ilish weighing 1kg can sell for Tk1,000-1,200. Larger sizes of the fish are priced around Tk2,000.
Fish stocks have recovered after a concerted effort was made to clamp down on illegal catches in the last few years.
Sources at the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock said a total of 7,540 mobile courts and 33,635 drives had taken place from 2011 to 2016 to prevent the illegal fishing of Ilish.
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The courts fined unscrupulous fishermen a total of Tk18.22 crore for catching mother Ilish and jatka (Ilish fry less than 23cm in length). They also filed 6,650 cases, arrested 5,095 fishermen, and confiscated a total of 887.8 million metres of fine fishing net.
ABM Zahid Habib, project official at the Department of Fisheries, said Ilish production will increase by 42% from 2012 after the Development of the Health of Ilish Fish and Management project is completed.
Five Ilish fish sanctuaries will also be developed under this project in Patuakhali, Shariatpur, Chandpur, Lakshmipur and Bhola.
Fish wholesaler and ABS group Chairman Md Abu Bakkar Siddique told the Dhaka Tribune that Ilish production data shown by the Ministry of Fisheries is inaccurate and that the total catch will be even higher than the forecasted 550,000 tons.
“We expect this year’s production to be 600,000 tons,” he said. “We will be self-sufficient in Ilish when the actual production grows to be 800,000 tons per year. The ban on Ilish imports from Myanmar will greatly benefit local businesses.”
According to WorldFish, Ilish is available in 11 countries, and its production has increased in the last couple of years at a rate of 8-10% annual growth.