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Protecting the fish in our rivers

The State Fisheries Department now plans to protect the Mahseer fish in the second phase of the Aquaculture Mission ( ST November 4, 2018). The plan is certainly appreciated though it could have come much earlier since the threat to this particular indigenous species of fish was looming large since long and as feared it might be extinct soon unless brought under a proper protection program immediately.
Though better late than never, before introducing such a protection program , it would have been appropriate to properly identify the reasons which have led to the dwindling of this particular species of fish or other fishes in our waters. Undoubtedly, as stated in the news report the poisoning of water by using roots of some trees , bleaching powder and pesticides and the use of dynamite kills various species of fishes including the Mahseer. These activities which are carried out at certain river stretches certainly upset the natural equilibrium there for some time, but which re-establishes itself soon with continuous fresh water inflow to allow the survivors to thrive and multiply again. What seems to have been overlooked and not mentioned however is the rapid decline of fishes and other forms of aquatic lives along the run of many of our rivers and streams because of the toxic effects of coal mining in the catchments . If this or any such detrimental activities continue in the catchments long enough without protective measures to safeguard our waters then it could have a perpetual devastating effect on the fish population. Many of our fertile, natural fishing grounds have already faced such consequences where the revival of fish population in the near future is uncertain.
Strangely anglers are also being blamed in the large part for destroying the fish population in our rivers. An angler uses a rod, line and hook for catching fish as a hobby and not by invasive means . As an avid angler for many years who has explored many rivers and streams in the state and beyond I am aware that many fellow anglers have expressed disdain at unfair means to catch fish. They have all along been hoping that authorities concerned take serious steps to curb them. Some have formed Associations / Societies on their own to protect the fish population in the rivers to ensure that angling continues as their pastime. Notably, the Jaintia Fishing and Environment Society with anglers in the forefront is one such organization which has succeeded to revive the fish population in the Myntdu river around Jowai where the fish population had otherwise dwindled because of aggressive stone quarrying along the river or on its bed in recent years. The Government would do well to recognize the efforts of this Society and encourage the formation of similar organizations in other Districts with adequate support and incentives. With their passion for angling, these organizations will certainly be enthusiastic and will liaise better with village authorities around rivers for creating awareness and for joint efforts to protect the fish population .
Interestingly, the Fisheries Department proposes to construct dams across rivers which will create artificial pools for establishing fish sanctuaries. When numerous natural deep pools in our rivers have for so long been the ideal habitat for large number of indigenous fishes, one wonders if these fishes will adapt to a modified water environment. Moreover, many river fishes and the Mahseer especially move upstream in fast moving waters to reach suitable spawning grounds and on maturity migrate to deep steady pools downstream. Hence these dams could be barriers for such movements. Therefore instead of disturbing the normal run of the river with dams, it would be preferable to identify the natural pools therein instead and establish these as sanctuaries with protection thereafter. Protective measures in the river catchments is however a pre -requisite to ensure sustained flow of suitable water in the rivers.
No doubt the conservation of the indigenous fish population in rivers and streams is a far more complex and tedious assignment than that of raising fishes in artificial ponds . One hopes therefore that the Fisheries Department have enough experts on the subject with dedicated and sincere inclination towards the purpose to ensure reasonable success.

Yours etc.,
K L Tariang,
Via email

Aquaculture Mission-2.0


Finally we have another Aquaculture Mission called Meghalaya Aquaculture Mission 2.O with a total cost of Rs 51 crore, half of which is already released by the centre to the state. We hope this Mission will genuinely meet the evasive dream of self-sufficiency in fish production. Going by the calculations of the Fisheries Department, Meghalaya’s annual consumption demand for fish is 30,000 metric tonnes. The projection made by the Department is that this mission which is designed for five years will be able to produce at least 15,000 metric tonnes of fish per year to meet the deficit in annual demand. Let us hope for the best and we wish the Fisheries Department and the Mission every success.

The Aquaculture Mission which was launched in 2012 failed to take off due to absence of guidelines and tardy implementation. It could not meet the target of creating 20,000 fish ponds and producing 15,000 MT of fish. It is alleged that only 8000 ponds were created and only about 8000 MT of fish was produced by 2018. This was in addition to 4000 MT produced by the state in 2012. So even after seven years of the first Aquaculture Mission, the State is able to produce hardly 12,000 MT of fish which means the shortfall is nearly 18,000 MT. Therefore the dream is realised. Taking its cue from the first mission the second mission is set to meet the same fate. The tall claims of the Department will become a big hoax by 2023.

The reasons for this are not far to seek. The second mission has four main components. First the creation of fish ponds by fish farmers on the basis of 60 % grants, 25 % loan and 15 % self-contribution. The loan component is routed through banks. This is the difficult part since many fish farmers are hesitant to approach the banks for loans for creation of ponds. Hence this will be a huge stumbling block in the implementation of the Mission. The second component is to set up Fish Mills. Who will set up these Mills and how and what is the modus operandi? This is also not easy. There will be setbacks even in this which also affect the progress of the Mission. The third component is setting up of aqua parks for attracting tourists. This is also not an easy proposition. There will be logistical problems here too. Yes, there might be takers for this but what about the loan component? Or will the Department extend only the grants for both the Mills and the aqua parks ? The fourth component is to implement the mission through convergence with the MGNREGs. This again is quite complicated since the community is involved. Who will own the ponds created and who will take care of the ponds after introduction of fish?

With all these intricacies in the actual implementation of the Mission it is bound to suffer from deformities and stumbling blocks. Clear policy guidelines are needed because the actual implementation will be executed by the respective District Fisheries officials and there is much scope for manipulation while implementing the Mission. This will also allow scamsters to reap a rich harvest.

Yours etc.,
Philip Marwein,
Via email


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