The fishy business | Milaap

The fishy business

I was on a visit to a borrower named Pampa in Bashirhat (a town nearly 74 km from Kolkata), for a follow-up for her sanitation loan, however, what interested me was her husband's story of fishes. He knows his trade well.

Her husband is engaged in the fishing business as a middle man and naturally I asked him about the fishing business. He said, “The winters is the off-season for us. Because fishes released in water in winters, don’t grow in size. In the off-season, I engage in the construction work, as a labourer. My father too was engaged in the fishing business. People engaged in similar trade group together, rent a truck and go to places such as Bankura, Purulia for selling the fishes. We take the fishes in the handis (pots). I have rented a room in the Lal bazaar of Bankura. Bankura has a huge fishing business, but there’s no hatchery in that area, fishes go from here, that is from the hatcheries of Naihati.” (Naihati is in the district of North 24 Parganas and Bankura is a different district. This man resides in Bashirhat which falls under North 24 Parganas).
Essentially Pampa’s husband buys small fishes called “pins” from the hatcheries and resells these pins to fish farmers. They don’t own or lease any ponds, they keep these pins in huge handis and transport them directly to the fish farmers.

“Fishes like tangra, parshe, bhetki are suitable for salt water.  Rohu, catla, mrigel are fishes of sweet water. During the monsoons, the river water becomes sweet, that’s why more fishes are farmed during the monsoons. During monsoons, the river water enters these lakes. If fishes of sweet water are released in salty water then their eyes go bad. The bhetki eats baby prawns, which enter the lakes from rivers during the monsoons. Otherwise, they wouldn’t grow in size. They only eat other fishes. They don’t eat mash and gadda (types of feeds-given to fishes, chicken and cattle). Now prawns are being hatched in the hatcheries. Previously prawns used to grow by themselves in the rivers called baghda chingri. They are now being farmed in large water bodies scientifically, and are now maturing in 3 months when naturally they used to mature in 1 year."

People engaging in commercial fishing in a lake in Gobardanga

Next, he talked about hybrid fish farming. I have had the opportunity to see hybrid farming in Baduria. These hybrid fishes are farmed in shallow ponds with a depth of 3-4 feet, and one small pond would require 50 kgs of feed in a day, so I knew what he was talking about. "Hybrid fishes eat dirt and garbage and grow in 2-3 months. They grow according to how much food they are given. They farm a lot of fishes in one chamber of water, if they have a land of 1 katha (measuring unit), they might have 1-ton fishes there. In one water body, they might release 30-40 lakhs fishes. Hybrid business is more profitable. These fishes eat prawn heads and chicken feed. These fishes eat a lot, if a person has 5 katha of land, the fishes need 1 ton of feed every day. These fishes eat garbage, and it stinks, no one does hybrid farming in our area, no one would let anyone do that. Nepal, Siliguri, in these sides hybrid is farmed more. No one even buys hybrid on this side, not even people in urban areas. People know that these fishes eat garbage, no one buys them in West Bengal, they are sold in the northeastern states like Nagaland.”
  People catching fishes with fishing rods-a leisure activity, in Gobardanga

A hybrid farmer in Baduria, before one of her shallow ponds in which hybrids are farmed

I doubt people in urban areas of Bengal knowing about the diet of hybrid fishes, and avoiding them, I had certainly not known it before, and I don't think people even know about the fishes they eat being the hybrid variety.
What struck me was that I have read about Thai magur or more popularly known as hybrid magur, and how they are banned in India, because they eat the indigenous fishes in the water bodies. What this man means when he’s talking about the hybrid is hybrid magur or hybrid walking catfish. While in Baduria, I have known people farming hybrid magur, a natural question in my mind is whether these fish farmers are farming the banned hybrid magur in their ponds but there was no way to find out. I have also read about banned hybrid magurs being brought in from states like West Bengal, naturally, it makes me wonder. If indeed they are farming the banned fish, I wonder if they know that they are farming a banned fish, and that their activity is considered illegal.