Fish population in Mahakali river in danger due to increase in unsustainable fishing practicesAside from the adoption of illegal fishing methods, haphazard excavation of riverbed materials is also harming the aquatic population of the river.
Munni Sunaha, a fisherman in Kanchanpur, has spent most of his life fishing in the Mahakali river. Fishing in the Mahakali was a major source of income for his family, he says, and he would fish in the river from early morning until late evening. “I spent almost all of my life fishing in the river. It earned me my daily bread,” said Sunaha. But times have changed for Sunaha and other fishermen like him.
Now, on a good day, Suhana manages to catch 2kg of fish in the river. Only a couple of years ago, he made home with around 7kg. This dearth of fish in the Mahakali river has been brought on by unsustainable fishing methods, such as electro-fishing and blasting. These new fishing techniques adopted by fishermen are effectively killing fish, but, given the frequency with which the techniques are being used in the Mahakali river, aquatic life has failed to recuperate from its loss in numbers.
More than two dozen native species of fish are found in the Mahakali River. Among them, Mahasheer, Asala (snow trout), Bam (eels) and Jhinge are some popular species of fish. But in the last few years, Mahasheer fish have declined in number, said Kisan Khadka, a local of Bheemdatt Municipality, who also campaigns for the conservation of the Mahakali River.
Aside from the adoption of illegal fishing methods, haphazard excavation of riverbed materials is also harming the aquatic population of the river. Ram Nath, ward chairman of Bheemdatt Municipality No. 9, said that the newer crop of fishermen is found to have been using electric current and pesticides to fish in the river. “The practice of using electric current, blast method and pesticides has been going unchecked, and because of this, the river today supports only a limited number of fish species,” said Nath.
Fishermen say they are using such measures because the traditional method of fishing using nets bears little to no result. “There are no fish left in the river. So no matter ho
w long we wait with our nets in the water, we fail to secure a good catch,” said Dhirendra Sen, an Indian national of Bangali Basti, a neighbouring Indian settlement of Mahakali Municipality.
According to him, families in Bangali Basti used to make a good income by fishing in the river until five years ago. “In a group, fishermen of Bangali Basti used to trap fish and supply it in bulk to wedding parties and huge gatherings. But nowadays, we don’t have the supply,” said Sen.
Besides the new fishing techniques, haphazard excavation of riverbed materials and construction of irrigation and hydropower project dams in the river has also led to a decrease in the fish population. “Garbage and untreated sewage from drains is directly disposed into the river, which has also affected aquatic life in the river,” said Nath.
To curb the deterioration of the river and to curtail illegal fishing practices, Bheemdatt and Mahakali Municipalities have made directives for the local units to implement. “But the directives aren’t being implemented in a proper way,” said Khadka. According to the set directives, the municipality has imposed a ban on trapping fishes during the reproduction season. The directives also prohibit fishermen from using electric current, blasting method and pesticides to fish in the river.