Bengalis are in for a pleasant surprise amid the COVID-19 gloom as fishermen, after a three-month hiatus, have exuded hope of a bumper yield of hilsa, known as "maacher rani" (queen of fish) in Bengal, given the dip in economic activities in the seas due to the lockdown.
With the arrival of monsoon, many of them have already ventured out with their trawlers, trying their best to lay hands on the prized "silver crop" -- a nonpareil delicacy that can be savoured when fried, smoked or cooked in mustard sauce.
"As there was near-zero commercial activity in the seas and rivers, and no industrial effluents were released into the waters during this three-month hiatus, fish breeding, which is common during this season, is bound to pick up pace.
"Since June 14, several fishermen have set sail. The catch is expected to be higher this time compared to the last two years," Sunderban Development Minister Manturam Pakhira told PTI on Tuesday.
The Ganga meets the Bay of Bengal near Sunderbans in South 24 Parganas district and the confluence happens to be the breeding ground for hilsa, which moves upstream from the seas to the rivers around this time of the year.
A matured fish spawns 10 to 12 lakh eggs, of which a small fraction hatches.
Most of the 12,000 big trawlers in the Kakdwip belt of the district are expected to hit the seas over the next few days.
"We can give you an approximate figure of the yield after 15 days. One thing is for sure, there was barely any vessel movement during the lockdown. It reduced water pollution and aquatic life remained largely undisturbed. So we are expecting a bumper hilsa yield," Pakhira said.
General secretary of the Kakdwip Fishermen Association Bijan Maity said anything between 32,000 and 35,000 metric tonne would be considered a good catch.
"Last year, the yield did not cross 12,000 metric tonne due to factors such as pollution and late arrival of the monsoon. We are positive that this year will be different. Amid the lockdown, works such as maintenance of trawlers and repair of fishing nets were put on hold. Hence, some fishermen are taking time to venture out," Maity said.
Claiming that several "unscrupulous" fishermen flout the April-May ban on trawling to rake in more moolah, Maity said this year, however, not many could do that as strict restrictions were in place.
Unlike the last two years, the fish will be bigger in size and probably tastier, he added.
The oily fish, depending on the quality, is sold for anything between ₹1,200 and ₹1,800 per kg.
"Our catch is sold across Bengal and in other parts of the country. We are hopeful of tickling the taste buds of Bengalis amid the COVID-19 gloom," Maity said.
Pakhira insisted that all fishermen have been told to wear masks and use hand sanitiser, especially when they sell their catch.
Vice Chairman of the Digha-Sankarpur Development Authority Akhil Giri said trawlers have also set sail from East Midnapore district.
"Fishermen had suffered losses last year. This year, they are expecting a good crop," he added.