A section of aquarists and ornamental fish breeders are surprised that the Denison barb (Miss Kerala), a native freshwater fish species commonly found in parts of Karnataka and Kerala, has been included in Schedule I of the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2021. The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in December last.
Aquarium enthusiast Beta Mahatvaraj of Chennai, who has been documenting the native Indian fish species for years, points out two issues in the Bill.
‘A ban, literally’
He says the scientific name Puntius denisonii , given against the common name Denison barb, is wrong; it should have been Sahyadria denisonii . Even then, the species is found in the States of Kerala and Karnataka. He doubts whether the species can be considered endangered based on the available data. “Inclusion in Schedule I is literally a ban. It is like how you cannot keep a tiger at home,” he argues.
Ornamental fish breeder and exporter Nikhil Sood of Bengaluru contends that the trade of ornamental fish is being vilified unnecessarily, though it has contributed immensely to the discovery of many species of native fish over the past 25 years. Denisonii itself is a re-discovery because of the ornamental aquatic trade.
“This campaign to ban Sahyadria denisonii is old and sadly outdated. This rule would have been applicable around 10-12 years ago when the fish was discovered,” Mr. Sood says. Sahyadria denisonii is found in almost 11 rivers of Kerala and Karnataka with some of the highest endemic aquatic fauna in the country.
The income from the collection of denisonii for the ornamental fish trade acts as an incentive for fishermen to protect habitats, he contends.
“It would have been preferable to better regulate the trade in wild collected fishes and promote captive bred fish perhaps by including the species in Schedule IV instead of Schedule I.”