Insatiable greed: Poison fishing destroying marine life in River Indus

Published: January 11, 2015
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Hundreds of juvenile fish were found dead from the Rice and Nara Canals after fishermen added poisionous chemicals to the water. Poison fishing has become a serious cause of concern in the region over the last few years. PHOTO: EXPRESS

Hundreds of juvenile fish were found dead from the Rice and Nara Canals after fishermen added poisionous chemicals to the water. Poison fishing has become a serious cause of concern in the region over the last few years. PHOTO: EXPRESS

KARACHI / SUKKUR: 

Hundreds of juvenile fish were found dead in the Rice and Nara Canals after fishermen poured poisonous chemicals into the water to maximise their catch. The incident occurred after the closure of the canals for the annual repair and maintenance of the Sukkur Barrage from January 6 to January 20.

Once a year, the seven offshoots of the Sukkur Barrage are closed for maintenance and repairs, due to which the gates at the head of the canals are closed and water is allowed to flow downstream into the river. The water collects in small ponds at various sites of the canals. It is in these ponds where the greedy fishermen pour poisonous chemicals that kill the smaller fish which are then sold as poultry feed.

On Saturday, a large number of dead fish were found in the Rice and Nara canals, which were believed to have died as a result of the poisonous chemicals. The substance is so hazardous that it has allegedly been responsible for the deaths of a number of rare blind Indus dolphins over the past few years. The relevant departments have, however, failed to take action against the perpetrators.

According to locals, the fishermen pour the chemicals into the water late at night and then send their children to collect the dead fish in the morning. The dead fish is either sold to fish farmers to be used as feed or to the poultry industry. The addition of these chemicals not only harms the juvenile fish but also other marine life, such as the fresh water turtles and the Indus dolphin.

Four years ago, residents of the katcha area of Pano Akil had added poisonous chemicals in the ponds that the receding Indus river had left behind. As a result, more than ten blind Indus dolphins were killed. The fisheries and wildlife departments had registered an FIR against the unidentified culprits, but no arrests were made.

“Yes, the fishermen do use poison for fishing,” admitted the deputy conservator of the Sindh Wildlife Department for Sukkur region, Taj Mohammad Shaikh. “But we won’t allow anyone to do so again,” he assured.  Explaining the measures taken by his department, Shaikh said that his department had met and discussed the issue with all stakeholders so that better measures could be taken. “We have also warned all local fishermen not to use poison for fishing,” he added.

Admitting the weakness in his department and the shortage of human resources, Shaikh said that it was hard to cover all seven canals in the region. “We will take stern action against the fishermen if they are found in any illegal activity.”

For his part, the Sukkur fisheries department deputy director Ghulam Mustafa Gopang expressed ignorance about the incident. He added, however, that officials of the fisheries department, wildlife department and the World Wildlife Fund had met the Sukkur SSP in this regard, who had assured them of full cooperation. Moreover, teams of officials of the fisheries department had been deployed at various points to discourage the practice, he revealed.

Gopang was of the belief that the juvenile fish may have died due to the cold weather, adding that the addition of poisonous chemicals for fishing was not possible after the strict measures taken by the police and the fisheries department.

Meanwhile, the director general of the fisheries department, Ghulam Mohammad Mahar, said that with the coordinated efforts of various departments, incidents of mortality, especially of the blind Indus dolphin, had decreased.

“All possible measures are being taken,” said Mahar, adding that his department will also take stern action against fishermen if they were found involved in any illegal activity.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 11th, 2015.

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