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May 5, 2021

Harmful nets, chemicals destroying Keenjhar livelihoods


May 5, 2021

HYDERABAD: After marine waters, some influential people have started using destructive fishing nets in Keenjhar Lake, threatening the livelihood of a large number of community people.

These small-eyed nets not only destroy available fish stock, mainly juvenile fish, but also ruin vegetation, where fish breed, local fishermen activists said.

Fishers in villages around the lake own about 1,700 fishing boats, of these 10-12 boats are equipped with harmful nets despite an official ban.

These harmful nets have a capacity to wipe out marine species, including juvenile fish and turtles in the area, and are a threat to the ecosystem.

Community activists claimed that these people had political backing, which was why they used the banned nets with impunity.

Sindh Inland Fisheries department, under the World Bank–funded Accelerated Action Plan (AAP) has provided fish seeds for Keenjhar Lake to improve community livelihoods. This has sparked hope among the people, who now expect better catch.

However, fish seeds introduced under the plan might not reach maturity if the use of harmful fishing nets does not stop.

Local elders have trained the youth in traditional sustainable fishing practices. They use small nets and avoid catching immature fish and turtles. A majority follows these traditions except a few greedy ones.

Irshad Gando, a local community activist said previously the lake used to receive natural fish seeds during May and June through Kalri Baghar (KB) Feeder flowing from Kotri barrage, Jamshoro district. But the canal was now polluted due to industrial and municipal waste from the area, which has wiped out all freshwater species.

Now the lake receives seeds from hatcheries, which can survive on specific chemical feeds.

Gulab Shah, a community activist from Keti Bunder, keeping a close eye over the changes in marine and inland waters, said only naturally coming fish seed through canals mostly during May and June benefit people, as this fish was nutritious.

He said the fish from hatcheries carried certain risks due to chemical use. “When these species are released in freshwater bodies, like Keenjhar Lake, they may have little chance of survival, as the fish needs chemical feed for its growth,” he added.

Anwer Gando, another fisherman activist at Keenjhar Lake recalled the happy days of the past when he used to catch more fish on his small boat and lived a happy life next to the lake.

Presently, there are around 25 fish species in the lake, of which six-seven species have commercial value because of taste and nutrition.

He also opposed the use of unlawful practices in the wetland, which has been declared a Ramsar Site due to its international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Ramzan Mallah, a fisherman activist from Sanghar district said presently only the Chotiari reservoir covering 60-lakes cluster produced natural fish seeds, as the breeding season of freshwater species starts in May. “Otherwise, majority of lakes out of 1,209 registered freshwater bodies have either been ruined by dumping chemical and industrial waste or reclaimed by politically influenced people in Sindh.”

Mallah pointed out that certain well-connected people were depriving the lake of its natural species by poaching seeds, and selling to commercial fish farms.

“They are depriving the local fishermen of their right,” he said, adding that private hatcheries were yet not producing precious freshwater species like Sengari and Rohu. These species inhabit and breed in the freshwaters and presently only Chotiari reservoir was their home.

The rates of Sengari and Rohu range from Rs400/kg to Rs1,000/kg, depending on the season. Hatcheries produce seeds of kuriro, morakho, theri, silver, grass and others, which have market value ranging from Rs200/kg to Rs500/kg.

Keenjhar Lake is a famous picnic resort, which always attracts a large number of people from different areas throughout the year. There are around 180 motor boats, which are used for tourists.

Fishermen activists believe that the practice of using harmful nets at the mouth of creeks has already exploited fish stocks, depriving the community of their source of living. If these practices continue at the lake, future of the local community would become uncertain, they said.

Fishermen residing at different freshwater lakes continue to face ups and downs with new threats emerging every now and then. Sometimes it is chemical waste from factories that gets dumped in the lake, at other times hatcheries release their chemical infused water into the lake, which makes things complicated for them.

Elderly fishermen said it was not just the fish that depended on the lake. Many other water and wildlife species depended on the same ecosystem and needed a safe environment for their survival.

Community activists want the government to take an action against all culprits, who harm the freshwater bodies, from industrialists to fishermen using harmful nets.

They urge departments like inland fisheries, irrigation, tourism, Sindh Environment Protection Agency, and wildlife to save the major water bodies by ensuring provision of freshwater and stopping the violations such as use of harmful nets, dumping of chemical waste, and other pollutants.

Otherwise, they said the water bodies would be lost to pollution and the communities that depended on these freshwater lakes would be left destitute.