Experts fear that these varieties could be lost forever as their population has dwindled considerably in recent years.

Bengaluru Kaikondarahalli lakeImage for representation: Picxy
news Environment Saturday, January 30, 2021 - 13:10

Fifteen years ago, Hebbal Lake in Bengaluru was filled with Chelu Meenu, a species of fish known as Singhi in English, with the scientific name Heteropneustes Fossilis. “When harvested, we would find around 50 kg of the fish in a day,” a fisheries officer, who was involved in its production at the time recollected. Today, there are barely any Chelu Meenu left in Hebbal Lake, causing fear that this variety of fish might be gone forever in and around Bengaluru.

While wild animals are disappearing from forests owing to destruction of habitat in Karnataka, as many as 32 varieties of indigenous fishes are not to be seen in rivers, lakes and reservoirs in the state. Experts fear that these varieties could be lost forever as their population has dwindled considerably in recent years. Observers say that there was no plan to conserve them so far, and hope that adequate plans are drawn up by concerned officials soon.

Along with Chelu Meenu, Kuchu (Magur in English), Korava (Asiatic Snake Head), Cat Fishes, Haavu Meenu (Spiny Eel), Baale Meenu (Fresh Water Shark), Owl Meenu (Giant Snake Head) are some of the other varieties of fishes that are on the decline. A source in the Fisheries Department recalled that Haavu Meenu (Snake fish in English) was so tasty that late Chief Minister Kengal Hanumanthaiah relished eating it as part of his diet. Another fish variety which was often relished was Kuchhu Meenu, but these varieties are hard to find now.

Experts said that instead of focusing on indigenous fishes, the Fisheries Department gave a thrust to fast production of fishes, resulting in indigenous varieties vanishing from rivers and lakes. Nowadays, Rohu and Katla among other varieties, all belonging to Ganga river region, have been bred in state fish farms for consumption. Attention has not been given to indigenous varieties, which are making a slow exit from rivers and lakes.

Fishes started to dwindle after fisheries officials began to promote the highly predatory African Catfish among farmers, which grow fast and prey on indigenous varieties, making them disappear at a rapid rate, a fisheries officer said.

Seemingly unaware of the dangers that the African Catfish could pose to indigenous fishes, the Fisheries Department brought them to Karnataka from Kolkata. These African Catfishes are native to the River Nile in Egypt and started to feed on indigenous fishes and created havoc before the department could sense the danger, according to observers.

However, officers are hopeful that indigenous fishes could be revived in the state, provided the fisheries department draws a plan and hatches them, after collecting them from available regions. These indigenous fishes should be developed and released into rivers and lakes to make their numbers grow, experts said, adding that it should be done once they reach adulthood and grow to about 1.5 inches, to enable breeding.

Another reason for indigenous fishes vanishing is unscientific fishing by fishermen, an official said, adding that there were specifications for fishermen to use fishing nets to catch fishes but not all fishermen adhere to the rules and have smaller fishing nets smaller, that catch small fishes, causing their numbers to drop in rivers and lakes.

Recently, retired fisheries officer MF Rahman submitted a representation to the Karnataka government, asking it to take steps to revive the population of indigenous fishes in reservoirs, rivers and lakes but nothing substantial has happened, he said.

“I have gathered details of each indigenous fish and given it to the state government to revive them in farms but the report has been gathering dust,” Rahman said.

When contacted, Joint Director of Fisheries department, Mysuru Narayan said that, “If Karnataka Veterinary, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries Sciences University officials come forward to conserve these dwindling indigenous fishes, then Fisheries Department would extend all support to conserve these fishes, before it is too late.”

Girisha is a freelancer who writes on wildlife and forests.

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