Action against farming of banned fish species

Banned:Magar, the African catfish, that is grown extensively in Chittur taluk of Palakkad.  

Large-scale farming of the banned and exotic variety of Magar (Clarias gariepinus), also known as the African sharptooth catfish, is being reported from Chittur taluk and some other parts of the State. In Chittur alone, the fish variety is being farmed on 1,000 acres (area of ponds put together approximately).

The Departments of Fisheries, Health, and Police had raided some of these places recently.

Deputy Director of Fisheries S. Mahesh told The Hindu here on Monday that a number of complaints had been received from the people through the District Collector about the clandestine rearing of the fish.

Chicken waste was the feed used and this contaminated wells in the locality, he said. Fisheries sub-inspector P.S. Sinob, part of the raid team, said they had issued stop memos to some of those who had taken up fish farming in leased ponds at Vannamada, Karumanda Gaundar, Athikode, Kozhijampara, and Eruthiampathy.

This fish variety was air breathing and could be grown in marshy areas with little water. It attained three to five kg in one year. The fish was for sale in districts such as Madurai and Tiruchirapalli where sea fish availability was limited, sources said.

Roy Wilfred, Junior Health Inspector, Public Health Centre, Vannamada, who first reported the matter to the Fisheries and Health authorities, said farming was taking place in 1,500 acres in Chittur.

“No hatchery could be located in Chittur and the farmers secured fingerlings from outside the State,” Mr. Wilfred said. The fish was not sold as a food item locally. Some people felt that it was being used for biological research. But we did not have authentic information about the actual purpose of farming, Mr. Wilfred said.

The Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, in their assessment of Magar, had stated that ‘this alien, carnivorous, and predatory species is a threat to native fish varieties. This hybrids exhibit aggressive behaviour and large variations in body weight. They also have cannibalistic behaviour.’

The National Committee constituted under the chairmaship of the Joint Secretary (Fisheries), Government of India, to oversee and regulate the introduction of exotic aquatic organisms in Indian waters, at its first meeting on December 19, 1997, had directed State governments and Union Territories to ‘take immediate steps to destroy the existing stocks of exotic Magar and big head fish which had been introduced without official sanction in the country.’

It had also directed the identification of all hatcheries to enable destruction of the fish variety.

The letter in this regard said, ‘exotic Magar should not establish in the natural environment and cross with the endemic species Claris betranus.’ A strict controlling measure should also be taken to avoid the spread of exotic diseases.’

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