Bengalis are in for a pleasant surprise amid the COVID-19 gloom, as fishermen in West Bengal have exuded hope of a bumper 'hilsa' yield this year, given the dip in economic activities in the seas over the past three months due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown.
With monsoon having arrived, 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 or cooked in mustard sauce.
"As there was near-zero commercial activity in the seas and the 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 past two years," said Sunderban Development Minister Manturam Pakhira.
The Ganga meets 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 river around this time of the year.
Most of the 12,000 big trawlers in 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.
Bijan Maity, the general secretary of Kakdwip Fishermen Association, 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 this year will be different. Amid the lockdown, work such as maintenance of trawlers and repair of fishing net was put on hold. Hence, some fishermen are taking time to venture out," Maity said.
Claiming that several "unscrupulous" fishermen flout April-May ban on trawling to rake in more moolah, Maity also said that this year, however, not many could do that, in the midst of the strict restrictions in place.
This year, the fish will be bigger in size and probably tastier, he said. "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 all fishermen have been told to wear masks, use sanitisers, especially when they sell their catch.
Vice Chairman of 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.