Vol. 4 Num 73 Fri. August 08, 2003  

Natural carp breeding ground under threat

Fish is a much loved food in this country and a major source of protein for the people. Traditionally in this riverine country fish had been plentiful in supply and a fish-based dish was part of our characteristic dietary culture.

But "go fishing and live happy" days have disappeared as indigenous fish resources have dwindled to an alarming level necessitating adoption of new concepts like 'fish sanctuaries' and high tech fish farms. The natural reservoir of fish resource is facing severe man made threat of extinction. The 'Halda river' is one of the revealing examples. What is happening there? Halda river flows through Roujan, Hathazari and Fatikchari thana of North Chittagong. This river is known as "the potential natural breeding ground of carp fish" since time immemorial. According to the Fish Catch Statistics of Bangladesh, Department of Fisheries (1994-95) an estimated 9,144.54 kg of carp fingerlings used to be produced from different natural sources like Halda, Jamuna, Padma, Arial Kha and Modhumoti rivers. And out of those natural sources, Halda river was the major breeding ground for carp fish. In the year 2000-2001, the carp hatchling production from natural sources came down drastically at 1,872 kg. (Sharanika, fish weekly, 10-24, August, 2002).

Obviously the question arises -- what are the reasons for this drastic decline in carp fingerlings production? Carp is a major inland fish of Bangladesh. An estimated 384,289mt of carp fish is produced from different inland sweet water sources (DOF, MOFL, GOB, 2001-2002) and this fish species contributes roughly 20-25 per cent of the total fish production. A lot of people are engaged in this sector and they entirely depend on it for their livelihood. But unfortunately this carp fishery is now facing crucial days in its open water habitat (excluding closed water sector). The spawning ground of major carps (Rui, Catla, Mrigale etc) in Halda river is under threat and on the verge of ruination.

Actually what is happening in Halda river? According to a report published in "Prothom Alo" a few months ago (14 May, 2003), the carp fishery in Halda river was under strong threat. The carp hatchling production in Halda river is decreasing alarmingly -- at the rate 25-30 per cent per year. Because the nearby people are catching the egg-laying/brood fish from the river during the breeding time (April, May). They are mercilessly catching the brood fish (varying in 10-25 kg of body weight) by different fishing methods. If the brood fish are caught before spawning -- there can't be reproduction and multiplication in their numbers.

As a result the fingerlings production is in danger and the river is getting empty of both carp fry and adult fish. Actually though the government department concerned declared the 10 km vicinity along Halda river (in Hathazari and Fatikchhari thana under Chittagong district) as "Fish-Sanctuary" two years ago, the enforcement of this declaration could not be ensured due to boundary dispute between the two thanas. So the people of the said areas take the opportunity to catch brood fish and gradually destroy the future carp fishery. According to the report, these brood fish (Rui, Mrigale, Kalabaush, Catla etc.) migrate to this part of Halda river for the purpose of spawning in the month of April and May from Karnaphuli, Matamuhuri and Shangu rivers. All these brood fish tend to float on the surface of water before and after spawning because at this time they become very weak physically. At this moment the opportunist people catch the fish mercilessly. As per available local report it is known that these people set their nets in Halda and Karnaphuli rivers under Roujan and Hathazari thana in order to trap the brood fish during the breeding season. All this unauthorised fishing goes on in collaboration with local musclemen.

But the general local people are quite against this unauthorised fishing. It is their view that if the brood fish are caught like this then their fish trade will decline in the following years. According to the statement of a local old man who is involved with fish trade in the area for the last 40 years, he used to get plenty of released carp fish eggs in a single fishing effort. But now the situation is quite opposite. Even if he is involved in fishing for continuous ten hours, it is still difficult to manage or collect even two kg of eggs. He thinks that the only reason behind this is that brood fish are being caught indiscriminately.

It may be stated here that Halda river is the only source of sweet water perhaps in the whole world where the professional fishermen can collect fertilised eggs from the river bed and arrange for hatching them into spawning later on. But in other rivers only the fish fry can be caught, not the eggs like in Halda river. So in the prevailing condition in Halda river the breeding ground of major carp is going to be destroyed. It is high time for us to protect this silver resource of ours.

Under the present crucial situation in Halda river one likes to suggest the following in order to conserve our silver resource.

(1) It is highly essential to demarcate the exact area of natural breeding ground of carp fish in the Halda river. In this connection a team of fisheries experts may contribute their effort to the concerned GOB department.

(2) Once the boundary line of the breeding ground is fixed then the area needs to be declared as no-fishing zone (fish sanctuary). The concerned GOB department should take necessary action in this regard.

(3) The declared zone should be brought under constant watch in order to check unauthorised fishing specially during breeding period (April-July).

(4) The local people living near the spot should be motivated not to practice such unauthorised fishing of brood fish. They should be briefed about the importance of brood fish.

(5) Enforcement of fisheries laws should be strictly applied for the greater interest of the nation.

Conclusion: Fisheries sector plays an important part in the economy of Bangladesh. This sector contributed to 5.3 per cent to the GDP in 2001, and 11 per cent to foreign exchange earning. Besides, a lot of people are engaged in this sector to earn their livelihood. So this sector needs to be attended urgently.

Fish is a renewable resource, but it must be conserved and due care should be taken. Bangladesh could feel proud that it still has vast sweet water fish population and some 260 fish species use to roam across different parts of the country along the water routes. But we must not feel complacent as each.

The age-old proverb needs refurbishment. Instead of 'go fishing, live happy', we should popularise 'cultivate fish, push poverty aside'. Fish is our silver resource. Top priority should be given to their protection.

Gazi Nurul Alam is a fisheries biologist.