Illegal fishing: In River Kabul, sher mahi severely endangered

Published: April 21, 2012

A view of Kabul River where sher mahi breeds in the summers. PHOTO: FILE

SHABQADAR: 

The sher mahi found in Kabul River is fast becoming endangered because of illegal fishing in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

“People are using electric currents produced through small generators to catch sher mahi,” Khanatullah, a local fisherman, told The Express Tribune. This practice kills many small fish as well, he said. “The provincial fisheries department should take strict action to save the remaining larvae of sher mahi from destruction.

More barbaric methods are also used. “Hunters explode dynamite in the river, which kills every other kind of species in the river as well,” said a fisherman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The high price that sher mahi fetches in the market is another cause for the sharp fall in its numbers.

Junaid, a student, told The Express Tribune that to cure a craving for fish, they go for grass fish that is a lot more affordable than sher mahi which costs Rs700 per kilogramme.

Perhaps it is for this reason that locals along the banks of River Kabul have built numerous huts where sher mahi is cooked and served to customers as a delicacy.

“In the river, sher mahi is available from April to August but we are unable to fish in August due to floods. Artificial hatcheries in the area make sher mahi available throughout the year,” says Qamar Zaman, who owns a famous fish hut in Haji Zai, Charsadda district.

Fish huts dot the banks, particularly in Charsadda’s Haji Zai and Sardaryab areas and many others in Nowshera district.

River Kabul’s geographical location also appears to be a reason for the steep decline. The river, which springs from Chitral district in northern Pakistan, continues on to the eastern Afghan provinces of Asmar and Kunar. The fish, therefore, is hunted in both Pakistan and neighbouring Afghanistan during spring and summer.

Niaz Muhammad, a watchman at the fisheries department, admitted that little was being done to save the fish.

“The population of sher mahi has decreased by 80 per cent in 20 years due to illegal hunting. The department has only seven men to watch the banks of three rivers for illegal fishing,” he said.

However, he said that the department had arrested many illegal hunters who were punished. Dispelling claims that there is a “permanent licence” to hunt fish, he said that hunting permits are only issued for hooks, nuts and pattabale.

But a local source was sceptical of Muhammad’s claims. “No one can stop illegal fishing because huts along the banks of River Kabul, who sell sher mahi share their profits with the fisheries department,” he said.

Officials from the fisheries department insist that they are working to catch illegal hunters. “The Peshawar district office is unable to control it fully,” said Fawad Khalil, who works at the district office.

Khalil cites insufficient staff as the main reason for failure to eradicate the crime. “Before the department’s devolution to the province, there were 39 staff members in the office. Now, this department is run by only 13 people, seven of whom are watch over the banks of River Kabul.”

Khalil said that the department is also working to end the use of electric generators for fishing in the river.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2012.

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