The fetish for hilsa in city households has led to premature catching of small-sized hilsa, raising an alarm against unsustainable fishing practice and poor monitoring that allows the fish to be caught in fine nets that are banned. Jayotee Mitra Mukherjee, a school teacher purchased a 750 gm hilsa for Rs 1,100/kg from Gariahat Market. “The size is too small and the price too high. The taste, I guess, will be just about average. But with everyone at home looking forward to the first hilsa of the season, I decided not to wait any longer,” she said.

Amar Das, a trader at Lake Market, said, “The fish that weigh 500 gms are retailing for Rs 750/kg, those weighing 800-900 gms cost Rs 1,400-1,500/kg. The 1.5 kg fish is being sold at Rs 2,200/kg,” he said. At Narendrabazar in Diamond Harbour, hilsa started coming in last weekend. Around 3,000 trawlers have set sail in batches over the past seven days. Partha Sarathi Kuti, owner of Zenith Fish, a key player in the auction market, said, “There is a craze for hilsa early in the season and they will find buyers. But it would have been better to wait a bit longer for the rains to intensify. The fish would have migrated to the river and spawned, improving both size and taste.”

Principal scientist of Barrackpore’s Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (CIFRI), Ranjan Kumar Manna, said the migration up the river enhance the taste due to change in lipid profile of the fish as it swims against river current. “It is only after exposure to sweet river water that the fish appear to grow in girth and also acquire better taste. But we have been trapping them before,” admitted Mrityunjoy Dolui, a fisherman from Patharpratima.

Dwijen Maity, secretary of the fishermen association, said eight trawlers had been traced, their original papers seized and showcaused by the fisheries department for using illegal nets.