Last Updated On 23.06.2016

Stock characterization, captive breeding, seed production and culture of hilsa (Tenualosa ilisha)
The family Clupeidae is among the preferred food fishes in the world, including the Herrings, Shads, Sprats, Sardines, Pilchards and Menhadens. Belonging to the family Clupeidae, Hilsa, as commonly called in eastern region of India and Bangladesh, is a group of migratory fish species in commercial catches in a number of countries bordering the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. The species inhabits rivers, estuaries and coastal waters. Among the Hilsa fishing countries, Bangladesh and India are the major contributors, as its highest catch comes from the deltaic region of the Gangetic system in the coastal Bay of Bengal. The fish is anadromous; grows and matures in the sea and migrates to freshwater for spawning. Juveniles develop and grow in freshwater and gradually migrate to the sea, where they spend most of their lives. Hilsa is an important and lucrative commercial fish of the Indo-Pacific region. Due to its nutritional value and taste, the fish is considered a delicacy and provides direct or indirect livelihood to millions of fishers along the coastal and riverine stretches in its range of distribution. It is most abundant in the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Magna river systems of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, forming one of the most important commercial fisheries in these countries.

In India, hilsa is distributed in rivers Narmada, Tapti, Purna, Ulhas, Kali and Vembanad lake on west coast and Brahmaputra, Ganges (Hooghly sector), Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, Cauvery and Chilika Lake in the east coast. In India, the fishery of hilsa is confined to the artisanal fishing sector in the riverine stretches, traditional non-mechanized sector in the coastal areas and small mechanized sector in the near shore waters of the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea; with major contribution from the Bay of Bengal along the coastline of West Bengal, particularly the Hooghly estuary and off Gujarat along the Narmada and Tapti estuaries. The marine distribution extends from Arabian Sea with Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Bay of Bengal. Hilsa inhabits coastal areas in proximity of rivers, while it has been recorded 13-16 km offshore on Gujarat coast. Hilsa contributes about 14.0% to the total fish catch of Ganga-Hooghly river system on east-coast and 23.2% along Narmada estuarine system on West-coast. In India, hydrological alterations in the form of barrages and dams built across the major east and west coast rivers, especially along the Ganges and Narmada have blocked its migratory routes to breeding grounds in riverine areas, resulting in the collapse of its fishery in the river stretches above the barrages and as a result, hilsa landing is now concentrated in estuarine part of the rivers.

The lucrative commercial fisheries of the fish along the major estuaries, more particularly along the Hooghly estuary, have also drastically declined due to recruitment failure and indiscriminate exploitation of adults and juveniles, inviting management interventions for sustaining the fisheries. As the natural resources of hilsa is showing serious signs of decline, there is a compelling need for conservation and rehabilitation of this important fishery, along with domestication of the species through captive breeding and aquaculture.