Farewell to Fishes Like Boroli: Fish Lovers of India, Bangladesh Feel Sorrow

Ilish Fish of Teesta River on the Verge of Oblivion

River Teesta and its tributaries are noted for nursing ground of the fishes called – Boroli, locally called – ‘Ilish (or Hilsa) of Teesta,’ the very names of which captivate fish lovers of Bengal. But, the fish-loving people do not see them much now, as they have been lost in the whirl of wanton wants of the inhabitants of the North Bengal part of the Indian State, West Bengal and the Lalmonirhat and Nilphamari districts under Rongpur Sub-division of Bangladesh.

Among the many fishes of this region, this particular fish (the scientific name – Barilius barila) of the river Teesta is held in high esteem because of their scent and saga. Around 12-centimetres long (maximum) this silvery slough of this fairly common species in this river is always an attraction to both buyers and sellers. Not only does it bear the same taste and temptation to all fish-loving peoples, it is also commercially very important due to its superior taste.

One very interesting thing is that when this species swims, it twinkles in the clear river water, as it moves to and fro. Sadly, these tasty and tempting fish are at present on the wane.

The River Teesta and its small tributaries are both breeding and hiding places for this freshwater fish. However, at present, these places have become the most vicious places for the Boroli fish. The chief cause of this problem is the covetous eyes of fishermen and traders. They are always in want to fetch a lot of monetary profit and this has led them to catch as much fish as possible. This is why, many a time, they use poisonous pesticides in an unscientific way, which kills all types of fishes, both big, small and even, tiny ones are not spared.

fish seller dilip haldar fish market
Dilip Haldar selling Boroli Fish, (locally called Hilsa of Teesta River) to customers in the fish market, for Rs. 400 to Rs. 500 per kilogramme. Photo: (c) Shib Shankar Chatterjee

“Ei machher dam proti kilo 400 theke 500 taka, amonki 800 taka obdio jay; jodio aajkal khubi kam paowa jay. Tabe er taste alada, ekdom ilisher mato. Keu jodi ilish machher recepie kheye thaken ar ei-machher receipie kheye thaken, tabe ei-dotu machher madhye difference khuje paben na, e katha ami holop kore ba jor diye bolte pari (that is, At present, it’s existence is generally rare. Yet, a few of its are seen in the local market. In a word I can say – this type of tasty fish is not available in the bazaar everyday at all. Now-a-days, it’s cost reaches up to per kilogramme minimum Rs. 400 to maximum Rs. 500, while sometimes, it touches up to Rs. 800 per kilogramme. It bears a very captivating sweet fragrance and almost the taste of Hilsa fish like. Nobody could find out any difference between these two fishes, specially, when cooked with the same recipe. Even, yet if anyone tries to differentiate between these two fishes, he or she cannot do it and in this matter I can assure all the public with all guarantees … ,” emphasized Dilip Haldar, fish seller of Ghogomali Fish Market in Jalpaiguri district.

dilip halda sells boroli fish
Fish seller, Dilip Haldar selling Boroli Fish at the fish marketin Siliguri, Darjeeling district of the Indian State West Bengal. Photo: (c) Shib Shankar Chatterjee

“Though, presently, the Teesta river has fallen in the distributary channel of the Brahmaputra river near the Haripur Ghat area. But, earlier, that is, before the year – 1970, it existed at Teesta Mukh Ghat, which was located at a distance of around 05-kilometres to 06-kilometres from Haripur Ghat.”

“I have known this fish since my childhood and I also have habit of taking different types of delicious dish cooked with this type of fish, which previously my mother used to cook and now my wife does it very nicely. Presently, in our local weekly market it costs per kilogramme minimum Rs. 300 to maximum Rs. 400. Yet we do not hesitate to purchase the same at the higher rate, which ranks from Rs. 500 to Rs. 600 per kilogramme. We used to buy it always because of it’s taste and freshness. In a word we like it very much,” emphasized sexagenarian Surbhi Kumar Sahu Roy and 35-year-old Muhammad Habibullah, who reside Panchpeer Bazaar village under Sundargunj PS of Gaibanda district of Bangladesh and work in the branch office of Agrani Bank Limited.

The sharp changes in the courses of this river and its branches, water pollution, blasting in the hills (which create huge vibrations or tremors in the hilly rivers, streams, etcetera) and uses of various types of nets of the fishermen community and so on.

It can be noted here that the international river Teesta (locally known as – Tista) originates from Pauhunri glacier that situated in the mountain range in the Indian subcontinent, Himalayas and located on the international border between (Sikkim State) India and Tibet (that is, Tibet Autonomous Region, shortly say, TAR) China. It flows through the Indian States of Sikkim and West Bengal before entering near Kaliganj Hat under Dimla Police Station (PS) of Nilphamari district of Bangladesh. The river finally falls or merges into the distributary channel of the world’s one of the largest rivers, Brahmaputra (exactly at Haripur Ghat, near Panchpeer Bazar village under Chandipur Post Office and Sundarganj PS of Gaibandha district of Bangladesh). The Brahmaputra also originates from another glacier namely Angsi, that is situated also in TAR. The 393-kilometres of this long river is not only considered to be the lifeline of Sikkim State but also of West Bengal State (that covers Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Coochbehar districts) as well as western parts of Bangladesh.

According to officials of the fishery department of the Indian States Assam and West Bengal, “These little-ish fishes generally eat different types of watery plants, maggots, daphnia, cyclops, volvox, spirogyra, etcetera.”

Secretary General of Local Non Governmental Organsiation (NGO), Nature & Science Club of district headquarter, town, Jalpaiguri of West Bengal State, Raja Rout said, “They usually like various types of moss. Although, the want of this particular type of fish has arisen due to the pitiless aggression of the fishermen community and covetous eyes of the fish sellers or traders has thrown the species on the verge of extinction. Thus, this reckless attack of the merciless fishermen community and the greed of profiteer fish sellers or traders should immediately be stopped.”

According to the Additional Director of Fisheries (Technical), North Bengal Division, Fishery Department, Government of West Bengal State (India) pointed out, “The key reasons for declining of Boroli Fishes are :

a) Number of indigenous flora and fauna are declining each and every year due to various manmade as well as natural calamities,

b) Rampant use of mosquito nets during breeding season (that is, during the months of May to July) by the fishermen and the local people,

c) indiscriminate use of different pesticides and other chemicals in the tea plantation, which ultimately finds their way in the aquatic system causing mass mortality of Boroli and others small fishes, particularly,

d) indiscriminately catching of Boroli fish in the past had caused sharp or considered declining of Boroli fish in their natural habitat,

e) soil erosion and landslide due to indiscriminate deforestation has increased the load of the riverbed, which in turn creates natural barrier for the migration of Boroli fish and

f) Unplanned lifting of stones, sands, and others materials from the riverbeds, which have destroyed Boroli breeding grounds.”

He also suggested, “The principal steps have been taken to revive the Hilsas of Teesta river (that is, Boroli species) are :

a) Restrictions of mosquito nets during breeding times (that is, during the months of May to July) by the fishermen community through awareness campaign,

b) Culture of Boroli fish in confined water-tanks, ponds, small reservoirs, et cetera,

c) Steady of growth and survival rate, food and feeding habits and its viability,

d) Constructions of Boroli fish hatcheries to ensure Boroli seeds to the farmers and river ranching and

e) Awareness programme amongst local people, fishermen community, for judicious exploitation of the Boroli fish without destroying their natural habitats by using unwanted methods.”

teesta river barrage gajoldoba jalpaiguri district
Teesta River Barrage at Gajoldoba in Jalpaiguri district, near the India Bangladesh International Border in Coochbehar and Jalpaiguri districts of Indian State West Bengal. Photo: (c) Shib Shankar Chatterjee

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species 2010, “Along with other small species of Barilius, this species was discovered by Scottish Physician, Francis Buchanan or Francis Hamilton or Francis Buchanan-Hamilton in 1822, who described the fish as – Cyprinus barila, which is used by fishermen as a bait on hooks for other bigger and commercially important fishes. It is also a game and ornamental fish. This freshwater ilish is found to inhabit large hill streams and shallow clear rivers along foot hills in a benthopelagic environment. The common name of this species is Barred Baril, which is also found in – China (Yunnan province), Myanmar (that is, Burma) and Nepal, excluding India and Bangladesh.”

“At the present time, these local ilish has stopped her all times diving and dancing, disporting and displaying various fits in the above hilly river and its tributaries. It is also lightning codes/alarming that this superb species are disappearing day-by-day or reducing in their numbers due to river also drying up day-to-day.”

Source : Shib Shankar Chatterjee/Scribd.com

Photo Feature and Captions: Text & Pictures – Shib Shankar Chatterjee (Copyright Protected) Please contact Shib Shankar Chatterjee or NewsBlaze editor for use of these photos or text.

birds eye view teesta river gajoldoba jalpaiguri district
Birds eye view of Teesta River at Gajoldoba in Jalpaiguri district, which also flows in Bangladesh after crossing India Bangladesh International Border in Coochbehar and Jalpaiguri districts of Indian State West Bengal. Photo: (c) Shib Shankar Chatterjee
teesta river jalpaiguri
Teesta River at district headquarter town, Jalpaiguri, near India Bangladesh International Border. Photo: (c) Shib Shankar Chatterjee
dilip haldar offers boroli fish
Fish seller, Dilip Haldar offers Boroli Fish to customers in the fish market of Sub Division headquarter-Siliguri, under Darjeeling district of the Indian State West Bengal. Photo: (c) Shib Shankar Chatterjee
boroli fish
Boroli Fish, locally called Hilsa of Teesta, from the India Bangladesh International Border River – Teesta. Photo: (c) Shib Shankar Chatterjee
Farewell to Fishes Like Boroli: Fish Lovers of India, Bangladesh Feel Sorrow 1
Fishermen of Teesta River fishing at district headquarter town, Jalpaiguri, before it enters Bangladesh, near India Bangladesh International Border. Photo: (c) Shib Shankar Chatterjee

Shib Shankar Chatterjee is a former BBC, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Statesman & The Telegraph Contributor-cum-Correspondent from Northeast India, who specializes in investigations of important issues affecting the people of South Asia, specially, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan & Myanmar.