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Flawed fishery law pushing indigenous fishes to extinction

By Rituraj Borthakur
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GUWAHATI, June 15 - Naro bato pabho mas/Aaru eta kaso,/Baro tokat kini ani/Kiyo baru naso? This Assamese rhyme which generations grew up with in Assam will soon lose relevance. For, the indigenous fish species mentioned in the couplet is staring at extinction thanks to the State�s flawed fishery law, which is failing to protect and conserve them.

On June 13 when a news of a 28-kg barali fish � caught from the Brahmaputra � being sold at the city�s Ulubari fish market spread on social media, the State Fishery Director issued an instruction to the district officer to inquire as to how the fish was caught during the fishing ban period, and take action against the offender. But the fishery officials were clueless as to how to proceed.

According to Rule 23A(I) of the Assam Fishery Rule, 1953 (amended in 2005), �catching of brood fish (fish with egg or sperm) of the species namely rohu, catla, mrigal, mali, chital, kharia, pithia, gharia and kuri is prohibited during the breeding season � from May 31 to July 15�. The offenders are liable to be slapped a fine of up to Rs 5,000.

There is no mention of the barali fish in the law, and hence, even if the fisherman who caught the fish from the Brahmaputra is identified, the fishery officials would not be able to do much.

Similarly, the names of naro-bato, pabho (pabda), seniputhi and prawn, which have been classified as endangered and are rarely to be found in the markets, have no mention in the law. Three of the nine species mentioned in the law � kharia, pithia, gharia � are not indigenous, and were introduced by the British at Jia Bhoroli.

Moreover, fishing of the nine categories of fish during the breeding period is banned only in �proclaimed� fisheries. In Kamrup and Kamrup Metro districts, there is just one such �proclaimed fishery� at Hajo � Garjan Beel � besides the Brahmaputra. The Brahmaputra has been leased out in parts for fishery purpose. A part of Kolong river is also on lease.

�Whenever you catch someone with brood fish, they claim that it is from their private fishery or ponds, and it is difficult to prove them wrong. Even if they claim that they caught the fish from a Brahmaputra backwater, we cannot do anything as the law only refers to the main Brahmputra river,� a fishery official said. Inquiry into the 28-kg barali also led the officials to a pond in Mayong of Morigaon.

According to the law, catching, killing and consumption of the undersized fishes of the nine species are prohibited during August 1 to October 31. There is no mention of any other indigenous species even in this section of the law.

�If the fishery law is not changed, the indigenous fishes would soon become extinct as with the existing law, nothing much can be done,� the official said.

In the absence of boats and mechanised vessels, the fishery officials are also not able to enforce the existing law. �Fishing is done in the middle of the river. You cannot enforce it from the banks,� sources said.

A total of 216 fish species belonging to 36 families have been recorded and reported from the Brahmaputra and Barak river systems in Assam. Of them, around 25 have been categorised as threatened and one � the Golden Mahseer � listed as endangered.

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Flawed fishery law pushing indigenous fishes to extinction

GUWAHATI, June 15 - Naro bato pabho mas/Aaru eta kaso,/Baro tokat kini ani/Kiyo baru naso? This Assamese rhyme which generations grew up with in Assam will soon lose relevance. For, the indigenous fish species mentioned in the couplet is staring at extinction thanks to the State�s flawed fishery law, which is failing to protect and conserve them.

On June 13 when a news of a 28-kg barali fish � caught from the Brahmaputra � being sold at the city�s Ulubari fish market spread on social media, the State Fishery Director issued an instruction to the district officer to inquire as to how the fish was caught during the fishing ban period, and take action against the offender. But the fishery officials were clueless as to how to proceed.

According to Rule 23A(I) of the Assam Fishery Rule, 1953 (amended in 2005), �catching of brood fish (fish with egg or sperm) of the species namely rohu, catla, mrigal, mali, chital, kharia, pithia, gharia and kuri is prohibited during the breeding season � from May 31 to July 15�. The offenders are liable to be slapped a fine of up to Rs 5,000.

There is no mention of the barali fish in the law, and hence, even if the fisherman who caught the fish from the Brahmaputra is identified, the fishery officials would not be able to do much.

Similarly, the names of naro-bato, pabho (pabda), seniputhi and prawn, which have been classified as endangered and are rarely to be found in the markets, have no mention in the law. Three of the nine species mentioned in the law � kharia, pithia, gharia � are not indigenous, and were introduced by the British at Jia Bhoroli.

Moreover, fishing of the nine categories of fish during the breeding period is banned only in �proclaimed� fisheries. In Kamrup and Kamrup Metro districts, there is just one such �proclaimed fishery� at Hajo � Garjan Beel � besides the Brahmaputra. The Brahmaputra has been leased out in parts for fishery purpose. A part of Kolong river is also on lease.

�Whenever you catch someone with brood fish, they claim that it is from their private fishery or ponds, and it is difficult to prove them wrong. Even if they claim that they caught the fish from a Brahmaputra backwater, we cannot do anything as the law only refers to the main Brahmputra river,� a fishery official said. Inquiry into the 28-kg barali also led the officials to a pond in Mayong of Morigaon.

According to the law, catching, killing and consumption of the undersized fishes of the nine species are prohibited during August 1 to October 31. There is no mention of any other indigenous species even in this section of the law.

�If the fishery law is not changed, the indigenous fishes would soon become extinct as with the existing law, nothing much can be done,� the official said.

In the absence of boats and mechanised vessels, the fishery officials are also not able to enforce the existing law. �Fishing is done in the middle of the river. You cannot enforce it from the banks,� sources said.

A total of 216 fish species belonging to 36 families have been recorded and reported from the Brahmaputra and Barak river systems in Assam. Of them, around 25 have been categorised as threatened and one � the Golden Mahseer � listed as endangered.