Headwater Extinctions by Emmanuel Theophilus: SOME CONCERNS

By Prof Prakash Nautiyal, (lotic.biodiversity@gmail.com) HNB Garhwal University, Srinagar, Uttarakhand

I have gone through the report Headwater extinctions: Hydropower projects in the Himalayan reaches of the Ganga and the Beas: A closer look at impacts on fish and river ecosystems by Emmanuel Theophilus[1], published by SANDRP, thanks for sending the report to me in hard and soft copy. It is indeed excellent, many more pages can be written on the beautiful portrayal. I am flagging some concerns, in context of the whole issue.

The impacts on fish could mean either impacts on fish fauna or impacts on fish populations. The former is more important from the EIA viewpoint now. We are still far from analysing impacts on fish populations. Few years before there were no concerns even for the fish fauna.

The whole analysis of impacts on fish fauna is based on secondary literature, the main source being S. P. Badola and WII report. The publication of S. P. Badola though recent (2009), is actually based on the ichthyofaunal studies conducted during mid and late 1970’s. Besides, his list includes fish fauna of numerous streams and therefore cannot be simply fitted to the Alaknanda, Bhagirathi or Ganga without sufficient knowledge of fish distribution by the user[2]. Do we still have all those species in these modified and fragmented rivers, is a big question that no EIA addresses? S. P. Badola found all those species after working for nearly over 3 to 4 years. Is it possible for anyone to do it within a year, while the actual field work did not continue all-round the year.  It was limited to a smaller period. The use of old secondary information is not giving a correct picture of fish diversity. Unless, we have a fresh study (for which nobody wants to invest, despite nagging importance) the present situation cannot be gauged. In this study I thought, perhaps a fresh list will appear and the present species composition will be compared with the earlier species composition, since the impacts on fish fauna was the main theme of the work. May be it was not within the scope of the work. Further, I do not see any substantial information on the impacts on ecosystem, though this term is used in the title.

I would also like to make a small discussion about the statement on p. 44, 3rd para, last couple of sentences: “There are a few scattered studies in terms of location, on differences in catch for species like the Golden Mahseer, but the comparison over time is for catches in the terai sections, or for different rivers in different basins, and not for the same location in the same basin[3]. While such studies could reflect larger trends, their usefulness for location-specific trends would be limited.”

“The fish populations are not localised, especially the mahseer because it migrates upwards from the foothill Ganga (Rishikesh-Haridwar) into the Ganga, Alaknanda and Bhagirathi. In fact migration enables differential distribution; larvae to juveniles occur in the Nayar like rivulets while the adult in the Ganga foothills. So even if we encounter individuals in the Alaknanda, Bhagirathi, Nayar etc during different months of the year, they are members of one population and any interpretation about them must consider the activities of a population. Thus, the contents of Bhatt et al (2004) and Nautiyal et al (2008) are applicable to the Gangetic mahseer but possibly verbatim not to Indus mahseer. If we need to assess the impact of Kotli Bhel IA, IB and II on mahseer, where it does not reside but occurs only as a migratory stock from February-March to June one must also consider its use of the Nayar (potential spawning and nursery ground) for breeding.”

Location specific catch may not be necessary for assessing any impacts in case of the snow-trout as it occurs as a continuous population in every inch of the Ganga, Alaknanda and Bhagirathi, except for locations such as Vishnuprayag, Harsil, Bhaironghati.  But catch as such is not a valuable information. Instead, species composition is more useful.


[1] For details, see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/new-publication-headwater-extinctions-impact-of-hydropower-projects-on-fish-and-river-ecosystems-in-upper-ganga-and-beas-basins/, for full report, see: https://sandrp.in/Headwater_extinctions221114.pdf

[2] I gave my opinion on fish related studies performed by WII in CEIA to Dr Jhunjhunwala.

[3] Various papers by P.Nautiyal and JP Bhatt. You could see J.P.Bhatt, P. Nautiyal and H.R.Singh. Status (1993-1994) of the Endangered Fish Himalayan Mahseer Tor putitora (Hamilton) in the mountain reaches of the River Ganga. Asian Fisheries Science 17 (2004) 341-355. And P. Nautiyal, AF Rizvi and P Dasmana. Life History Traits and decadal growth parameters of Golden Mahseer Tor putitora (Hamilton 1822) from the Himalayan stretch of the Ganga System. Turkish J. of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. 8: 125-131 (2008)

2 thoughts on “Headwater Extinctions by Emmanuel Theophilus: SOME CONCERNS

  1. This is a very important comment worthy of further follow up discussions and actions.

    it is a pity that fresh water fish conservation and their future is hardly ever seriously considered in river discourses in our country while in many other parts of the world it is fishers and fish enthusiasts who are at the fore front of river restoration campaigns????

    We need to go into details of this lacuna as well.

    manoj misra


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