Fish, Fisheries, Fisherfolk

WFD 2022: River Pollution Killing Fish En-Masse; New Threats to river fish

On the occasion of World Fisheries Day (WFD) 2022, this second report is on the mass fish death incidents in Indian rivers and wetlands during last year. It also presents critical reports concerning emerging threats of invasive fish, riverbed mining, pollution, encroachments, microplastic affecting rivers’ fish and fishers. The first part containing positive stories on the issue can be seen here. The third part would highlight mass fish death incidents in inland water bodies including lakes and ponds and the fourth part would cover the ongoing struggle of coastal fisherfolks and related issues. The fifth and last part on the series would highlight issues concerning aquatic bio-diversity in the country.     

Mass Fish Death Incidents in Indian Rivers

Maharashtra Thousands of dead fish found floating in Panchaganga On Feb. 24 2022 afternoon, thousands of dead fish were seen floating in the river spreading a foul smell in the vicinity of the Shiye bridge area in Kolhapur. The stretch of the river between Rajaram barrage to Shiye bridge and further till Shiroli bridge has been contaminated with a green coloured layer floating on top. A resident of Shiye village, Sangeeta Chavan said, “From the past two days, the water from our taps is having a foul smell. The administration is playing with our lives by supplying such water. The health of the riverside dwellers is under risk because of this negligence by the administration.”

MPCB official said, “The treated effluent pipe of a sugar factory at Shiye had some problems which caused the treated water to get mixed into the river. This might be the reason behind the death of the fish. The factory officials have accepted that there was some problem with the pipeline. At a primary stage, it seems to be an accident, but it is causing pollution and further action against the responsible will be taken as per the orders from our head office.”  (25 Feb. 2022)  (27 Feb. 2022)

Thousands of dead fish were found floating on the Panchaganga river and had to be removed by the Kolhapur Municipal Corporation (KMC) workers from the Rajaram barrage area. Environment experts feel the fish might have suffocated due to lack of oxygen in the water — caused by pollution of the Panchaganga due to sewage water directly flowing into the river.  (25 Jan. 2022)

A shoal of dead fish found at the Shirol barrage near the Panchaganga early on Feb. 8, 2021 morning has triggered fresh concern over river pollution, prompting the authorities concerned to launch a probe besides a clean-up drive. Barely a month, ago a similar incident had happened at the Terwad barrage, upstream of Shirol barrage. Locals claim that the fish are dying because hazardous effluents from industries are carried in tankers and released into the river late at night.  (9 Feb. 2021)

After thousands of fish were found dead in Panchganga river near Terwad village in Kolhapur district, angry villagers on Dec. 23, 2020 tied up a senior official of the PCB, as nothing had been done in the matter despite repeated complaints. The official was released only after the MPCB promised action against officials of the Ichalkaranji civic body.  (24 Feb. 2020)

Fish die in Panchaganga d/s Ichalkaranji Incidents of fish death have been reported in the Panchaganga river, downstream of the textile town of Ichalkaranji. A couple of months ago, fish deaths were reported downstream of the Kolhapur city. Chemical analysis and field visit of a sugar factory near Kasba Bawda revealed that it was responsible for releasing untreated waste water into the river.

Earlier, activists from Ichalkaranji and Shirol taluka had cautioned the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board officials that since the river is getting covered by extensive growth of water hyacinth, fish deaths may occur sooner or later. However, their warnings had fallen on deaf ears. (17 May 2022)

MPCB has pinned the blame for the Panchaganga river fish death on the Ichalkaranji Municipal Council claiming that the municipal council failed to ensure treatment of 100% of wastewater being released into the river. An inspection revealed that the STP of the municipal council — which is set to become a municipal corporation — is not functioning at 100% capacity. In fact, the municipal council’s STP is treating only 50% of the wastewater, the survey has found.

Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) leader Raju Shetti visited the site near the Terwad barrage where too fish death have been reported. “The Panchaganga river pollution has led to the death of 25 people due to jaundice. If a similar incident happens again, we will take the MPCB officials to court and hold them responsible for any death. We will also meet higher authorities and make them take steps to stop wastewater from flowing into the river,” said Shetti.  (18 May 2022)

Dilip Desai, social activist from Kolhapur, said, “Thousands of dead fish were found in Kotitirth lake and also in Panchganga river last month. MPCB doesn’t do anything other than issuing a show-cause notice. The KMC has not taken any steps to stop the pollution or for removal of water hyacinth from the lake.” Desai added that Rankala lake has got polluted and that no steps are being carried to stop the pollution. He said that removal of slurry from the Partala area of the lake is a must to stop pollution of Rankala lake.  (21 May 2022)

Severe oxygen deficiency may have led to fish deaths at Banganga Tank Over 20 days after thousands of fish were found belly up in Mumbai’s historic Banganga Tank, a probe by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) which was prepared on April 29 has revealed that a severe oxygen deficiency in the water could have likely been the cause of death. This is considered to be an odd scenario in April as there are no festivals, especially the Pitrupaksha rituals, which are the main reason for the death of the fishes around September every year.

According to the locals, during the Pitrupaksha rituals, people put a large quantity of food in the water as a symbolic offering to their ancestors. This leads to the death of fish. There is no clear policy of the government regarding it. During the lockdown, the fish at Banganga had survived during Pitrupaksha as citizens were not allowed to venture outside.  (10 May 2022)

Lakhs of fish were found dead and floating at the Banganga tank on April 22 2022 due to water pollution. Mahesh, an environmentalist of the locality said, “The dying of fishes in the Banganga is an annual affair in September due to the festivals. However, this year the fishes have died in April which was quite shocking for us. I visited the place and tried to find out what the issue was and why this place is getting worse day by day for the fishes.”

“There is leakage due to the water from the drains entering the tank and thus, polluting it. Rising temperatures might have also resulted in the deaths. Moreover, construction work of a building is in progress nearby. Water with cement and other construction material flows into the lake. All these reasons together are causing high pollution and bringing down the level of oxygen in the water which is leading the fishes to die this month,” he added. The contractor cleaning the tank on the site said that four trucks of fish were removed from the site and the cleaning process was still underway., (22 Apr 2022)

Sugar mills effluents kill fish in Krishna The swollen Krishna river is witnessing death of a large number of fish from Nagthane to Sangli city’s Mai Ghat stretch. The locals said that the mills release the molasses in large quantities when the river is swollen during rains, since the muddy river water makes the molasses unnoticeable. The mills stocks up the molasses to be released in the monsoon. The swollen river washes away the molasses. However, aquatic life gets destroyed.

The fish death is not common along the Krishna river and had last happened in 2019. Sandip Nazare, environmental activist from Sangli, said, “Not just the fish, but the other water animals are also dying. The aquatic cycle has been destroyed. The crocodiles, which live on fish, are not getting food. Currently, it is the breeding period of the fish. Large number of new born fish have succumbed to the effluent. The pollution board authorities need to look at these aspects rather than merely imposing fine on the polluters.” He said that some mills reuse the effluent, the technology is available, however many do not do it & thus cause the pollution of the river.  (16 July 2022)

NGT set up a joint committee — comprising officials from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), state fisheries department and district collector of Sangli — to visit different locations along the Krishna river where cases of fish death were reported. The panel has been tasked to find the cause for the deaths and take action against those responsible. Sangli-based activist Sunil Pharate recently moved a petition to the NGT, stating that incidents of fish deaths have brought forth the issue of pollution in the river that provides water for both irrigation and drinking. October 12 was set as the next date for hearing of the petition.  (26 Aug. 2022) 

Tamil Nadu Large number of fish found dead in Cauvery A large number of fish were found dead at River Cauvery in Vairapalayam in Erode city on Feb 2 2022. Discharge in the river from the Mettur dam that was over 15,000 cusecs for Delta irrigation, was reduced to 750 cusecs recently, leading to water stagnation at many places. Local residents noticed the fish floating in the river where the canal, carrying sewage from households, enters the river.

A large number of fish were found dead in River Cauvery in Erode. The Hindu

They said that a textile processing unit’s discharge and untreated effluents, seeping into drains during night hours finally entered the river, leading to the death of the fish. They said that the number of dead fish was high and pointed out that pollution was the sole reason. However, Pollution Control Board (PCB) officials said that depletion in the oxygen level could be the reason for the death of the fish. They said that samples will be lifted for analysis to ascertain the cause. (2 Feb. 2022)

Hundreds of fish dead at Ennore Creek A large number of fish were found dead in Ennore Creek for the last two days after a thick oily substance was discharged from the industries in North Chennai. Fishermen complained that it has been a perennial issue and continues to affect their livelihood. Locals complain that they are tired of protesting against the industries. Though the concerned government department will visit the spot, no action was taken to settle the issue.  (25 July 2022) Activists worried about frequency cases of fish kill in Ennore Creek.  (25 July 2022)

Dead fish wash ashore near Adyar estuary Fishermen near Adyar estuary were in for a shock in the wee hours of Nov. 3 2022 after witnessing scores of dead fish washed ashore along with water hyacinths and garbage. “Such incidents occur during the first spell of every monsoon as the toxins from the land wash into the sea,” said Nityanand Jayaraman, an environmental activist. Fishermen pointed out that the government agencies removed water hyacinths along the Adyar river but left them near the bunds. “The rains washed them into the sea.”  (04 Nov. 2022)

Karnataka Fish mills causing fish death in Udhayavara river Alleging that industrial effluents discharged to Udhayavara river near Udupi by industries, mostly fish mills, is leading to the death of fishes in the water body, an applicant has asked the NGT for the closure of such units immediately. Kishore Kumar, a resident of Udhyavara, in his affidavit before the Southern Bench of the NGT alleged that an expert committee formed by the Tribunal earlier failed to go into details of the pollution.

“The Udhyavara river also known as Papnashini is home to various marine species both flora and fauna. The water is being used by human beings also. The office of the Zilla Panchayat has earlier reported that industries discharging industrial effluents from fish mills directly to the Udhyavara river and pointed out its serious impact. Even Udhyavara Gram Panchayat also expressed similar concerns,” the applicant said.  (04 Nov. 2021)

Industrial effluent flowing into Phalguni results in fish kill Hundreds of fish were found dead and floating in the Phalguni (Gurupura) downstream the Malavoor vented dam, following the flow of industrial and domestic effluent into the river even as the administration has remained mute to the annual happening. Democratic Youth Federation of India State president Muneer Katipalla said the river water has turned black with industrial effluents starkly exposing the indifferent attitude of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, the district administration & the Mangaluru City Corp.  (25 April 2022) Taking congnisance of news reports appearing in The Hindu about the pollution of the Phalguni in Mangaluru, the principal Bench of the NGT has constituted a five-member committee to suggest measures to mitigate the pollution and restore the water quality.  (03 May 2022)

Haryana Mass fish deaths in Najafgarh drain A huge number of fish have mysteriously died in the upstream stretch of the Najafgarh drain along the Delhi-Haryana border in the last few days, prompting the Delhi government to rush teams to the area to probe the incident. Residents in the nearby Jhuljhuli village say fish in a pond in their village, around 150 meters from the drain, have also died. The number of dead fish could be in lakhs. It could be due to the release of an excessive amount of pollutants in the drain,” a forest department official said on condition of anonymity.

Dead fishes in the Najafgarh drain along the Delhi-Haryana border, in New Delhi. PTI picture/ The Telegraph

The fish have died only in a 5 km upstream stretch of the drain between Rawta village and Dhansa dam in Haryana. The banks of the drain are littered with dead, rotten fish and the stench has filled the area, a spot inspection by PTI revealed. No such incident has been reported at Najafgarh Jheel, the second largest water body in Delhi-NCR after the Yamuna. Praveen Kumar, a resident of Jhuljhuli, said they have never seen something of this sort in the past.  (04 July 2022)

Manu Bhatnagar of Indian National Trust for Art & Cultural Heritage said, “It appears that after good rainfall untreated effluent from Bahadurgarh Industrial Area in Haryana and untreated sewage from Gurgaon entered Najafgarh drain. This might have led to a rise in the ammonia levels of water, leading to the mass deaths. This is evident from the fact that the deaths were recorded downstream of Dhansa and Najafgarh Jheel, where Badshahpur drain discharges.”  (05 July 2022) Taking cognisance of a TOI report, NGT said: “We require a factual and action report from a joint committee of Central Pollution Control Board, Delhi Pollution Control Committee, Delhi Jal Board, irrigation and flood control department and district magistrate of southwest Delhi within one month.”  (14 July 2022) Untreated waste from STPs, heavy rain, and high organic and chemical pollution led to the depletion of DO in Najafgarh drain, causing the deaths of several hundred fish in July, a NGT report said on Oct. 21 2022. In its recommendations, the committee has not only asked for real-time monitoring of the water quality of the drain, but also requested the NGT to direct both Delhi and Haryana to form an action plan that ensures 100% treatment of sewage, industrial effluents and waste.  (22 Oct. 2022)

YAMUNA Saharanpur Several of fish were found to be floating near the confluence of Hindon and Kali Rivers; locals claim that release of untreated effluent led to this situation.  (Punyasloke Bhadury 09 Nov. 2022)

Baghpat Industrial effluents killed fish in Yamuna Lakhs of fish and several turtles were found dead in Yamuna river in Baghpat stretch following discharge of untreated effluents from the industries.  (09 May 2022)

Agra Fish dying due to pollution Several dead fish were seen at Hari Ki Pauri ghat in Yamuna river, Agra on May 17 2022. The Municipal Corporation took out the fish carcass and asked Irrigation department to release water in the river. With decline in fresh flows, the pollution in the river increases, resulting in depletion of oxygen level which has been causing fish death incident there. A similar incident had taken place at the site about two months ago. (17 May 2022) (22 Mar 2022)

Sagar Betwa choked with dead fish Lakhs of fish were found dead in Betwa river in Bina area for unknown reason. The entire course of the river was choked with fish carcass. A similar incident had taken place four years ago during monsoon. The official inquiry into the matter at that time remained inconclusive.  (19 July 2021)

Mass fish death in Kunwari river, Moreana. Dainik Bhaskar

Morena Mass fish death in Kunwari river Dead fish in large number were seen in Kunwari river raising foul smell and impacting health of cattle stock. Locals suspected release of some acid from a factory by dairy owners a reason behind the incident.   (28 April 2022)

GANGA Haldwani Dead fish pollute Gaula river Hundreds of fish were found dead in Gaula river at barrage site in Haldwani. The incident enraged the local people who demanded legal action against the culprits. They suspected discharge of toxic chemical by antisocial elements in the river as a cause behind the episode.  (13 April 2022)

Varanasi Scores of fish were found dead in Ganga river at Shivala ghat in Varanasi. There was not enough information in media detailing the event and causes behind it.  (24 July 2022)

Kanpur Minister released dead fish in Ganga Hundreds of fish turned dead moment after they were released into Ganga at Atal Ghat Kanpur by Sanjay Nishad, Fisheries Minister under a ranching plan. The fish were supplied in plastic packets under scorching heat which was cited a possible reason causing the incident.  (06 May 2022)

Lakhimpur Some people put poison in Suheli river near village Basantapur Kala killing scores of fish. They later collected the dead fish to sell in local market. After information, the forest department raided and recovered the fish, but the accused escaped.  (10 April 2022)

Siwan Dead fish found floating in Gandak river Thousands of dead fish were seen floating on Gandak river in Mahuari village under Maharajganj area of Siwan district for past 10 days. Local people suspected release of some chemical effluents in the river behind the incident. They feared it could reduce the fish quantity and livelihood of fishermen.  (03 March 2022)

Himachal Pradesh Fish in large number were seen dead in Taal khad at Dheera Naura and Panapar area in Palampur tehsil. Local people alleged release of polluted, frothing water in the stream responsible for fish death.  (11 April 2022)

Fish death in Sutlej Eastern Canal, Firozpur. Dainik Jagran.

Punjab Hundreds of fish have died in the Eastern Canal due to the contaminated water coming into the Sutlej river. The Eastern Canal passes through about 400 villages and the polluted water may affect health of humans, cattle and crop production.  (26 May 2022)

Jammu & Kashmir Hundreds of fish died of unknown causes in a radius of about half a kilometer under the bridge of the Ravi Tawi canal and the railway at the lower end of the Basantar river. Farkhanda Malik, Assistant Director of Fisheries Department Samba, said that the toxic water of some chemical factories is found in the river at the end of the Basantar river where the fish have been found dead. In the initial investigation it seems that the fish death are due to the toxic water of the factories.

In the first phase of Samba’s industrial area, there are more pesticides and chemical factories and ETP plants are installed in all. Even after that, the factories continuously emit contaminated and poisonous water, due to which the fish died. Earlier in the year 2012, 8 buffaloes had died after drinking poisonous water from the Basantar river. But no proper action has been taken by the Pollution Dept. (16 Sep 2022)

Fish Death Due to Dam Breach Incidents

Maharashtra Breach reveal locals eating flyash contaminated fish Breaking of the ash bund has brought a windfall for locals and also people living a little further, who are rushing to the site for an easy catch. The incident also revealed that the people of lower income segment living in the vicinity have been eating flyash ridden fish since years.

The Khasala ash bund of Koradi thermal power plant that broke in last week’s rains is barely a few meters away. When it broke, shoals of fish also flowed out along with the water, and are now in low-lying plots nearby. As locals have a field day, they are also finding flyash particles inside the fish. However, they admit to eating flyash ridden fish since years, catching them in ponds nearby and even water inside the ash bund.  (25 July 2022) On July 16, the Khasala flyash bund breached, leading to the flooding of three villages with toxic flyash slurry and enormous damage to agriculture fields.  (26 July 2022)

Odisha Farmland contaminated by breach in slurry pondSeveral acres of farmland near an integrated steel plant in the Sambalpur were submerged in iron ore slurry after the tailing pond wall was breached on Jan. 21 2022, locals said. Rengali tehsildar Damayanti Sahoo who visited the spot said she could see at least 20-30 acres of farmland submerged under the iron ore slurry while two ponds were contaminated. “In one of the ponds, I could see dead fishes floating. Tomorrow, we will do a thorough survey of the damage,” said Sahoo.

A company official said the iron slurry generated from beneficiation plant is pumped to the pond from where further disposal and waste recovery is carried out. “But due to breach of the wall of the pond, thick low-grade Iron ore slurry spread into the compound of tailing pond and further to some adjacent land,” the official said.  (22 Jan. 2022)

Madhya Pradesh Breach in Kshipra earthen dam cause fish death An earthen stop-dam at Triveni on the Kshipra collapsed on March 18, 2021 morning causing the contained dirty water to mix in river. Dead fish covered the waterbody due to contamination. The administration had commissioned the stop-dam to prevent mixing of contaminated water of the Kanh with that of the Kshipra.

The dam had been repaired before Makar Sankranti in January but the earthen dam was swept away due to rise in water-level in the Kanh. Around 100 MCFT of dirty water got mixed with the clean water in the river and polluted it. PHE sub engineer Rajeev Shukla said that water of the Narmada was saved from contamination as the same was stored at Gau Ghat located stop dam. The water of Narmada was pumped in for the snan-parv of Shanishchari Amavasya some days ago.  (18 March 2021)

Study Research predicts 6-fold rise in fish mass die-offs by 2100 Global warming will lead to a six-fold increase in the frequency of fish mortality events by 2100, according to a recent study. These die-offs may have detrimental effects on the functioning of our ecosystem, warned the study published in Limnology and Oceanography Letters August 26, 2022. It can also imperil the existing fish populations and food security thereof. The researchers compiled 526 documented fish die-offs across lakes in the American states of Minnesota and Wisconsin between 2003 & 2013. (29 Aug 2022)

IWP Mass fish deaths can pose a challenge to the environment, biodiversity and fisherfolk who depend on them for their livelihoods. Why do they happen? Explains very well.  (12 Nov. 2021)

Encroachment and Pollution  

W Bengal Villagers bear the burnt of toxic Mathabhanga river In Chandpur, fishing and farming are the primary occupations of the residents. “But due to pollution in the Mathabhanga river, fishing has stopped in this village for the last 4-5 years. Paddy & jute cultivation have been affected,” said Rai, who collects river water samples for the Central Water Commission.

Mathabhanga river bifurcates into Churni and Ichamati river— the former flows towards the sunset (west) and in the opposite direction, the stream visible is Ichamati river (Photo: Rahul Singh/101 Reporters)

Chandpur is not the only village whose people have lost their livelihood. In fact, increased pollution in the Mathabhanga river has cost about 10,000 fishermen their jobs. “The Matabhanga river has become polluted because of waste from factories in Bangladesh. The river barely contains any fish. We now work as labourers,” said Sukumar Haldar, who was a fisherman earlier. (1 Jun 2022)

Karnataka River likely to get polluted due to upcoming Balkunje industrial areaPrimary notification for land acquisition is published in order to set up an industrial zone on 1,091 acres of land at Balkunje. The survey work and objections of farmers is in the process. If the project goes through as planned, hundreds of families will lose their livelihood from agriculture. On the other hand Shambhavi river which flows nearby will be polluted and pose serious health issues for people and environment. Phalguni river is already polluted due to industries in MSEZ. The death of tonnes of fish in the river is the witness for this fact. Shambhavi river will meet the same fate, if the Balkunje industrial zone project gets established.  (26 June 2022)

Tamil Nadu Govt firm builds ‘illegal’ road in Kosasthalaiyar The Tamil Nadu Transmission Corp Ltd has started building a temporary road inside the main channel of the Kosasthalaiyar River for erecting transmission towers. The road, being allegedly built by dumping tonnes of debris and dredged sea sand, is coming up where floodwaters from Thiruvottiyur, Manali and Ponneri taluk (Araniyar-Kosasthalai River) enter the sea. This may aggravate the flood situation in the city, say environmentalists pointing to the inundation caused by rain in Nov.

As per official records, the corporation had obtained Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearance from the Union Environment Ministry for erecting transmission tower and transmission line of 765KV from North Chennai Thermal Power Station-3 to North Chennai Pooling Station in Ennore. In 15 out of 20 places, the tower foundation work has been completed and 13 transmission towers have been erected. According to Ennore fishermen, most of temporary roads built to deploy heavy machinery for construction are still intact. According to CRZ rules, the area must be restored to its original shape after the completion of construction.  (02 Jan. 2022)

Gujarat Appoint commissioner to probe ‘effluents discharge’ into Tapi: HC The case pertains to PIL moved by environmental scientist Roshni Patel after which the HC had, on February 14, issued notices to the central and state government authorities, pollution control boards, Surat authorities and Arcelor Mittal Nippon Steel Ltd. However, even after more than four months, the respondents are yet to file any responses on the contentions raised in the PIL, thus compelling the court to appoint a court commissioner to look into the issues being raised by the PIL.

It was also alleged that AMNS was illegally discharging industrial effluents containing acid, heavy metals, organic substances, high TDS and phenolic compounds, among others, from its Hazira plant in the Tapi estuary. According to the petitioner, the discharge harms fish-breeding and causes large-scale water pollution.  (05 July 2022)

Invasive Fish

Uttrakhand Exotic brown trout threatening native Himalayan fish species “This is concerning, as the headwaters can at best, only provide sub-optimal habitats, not sufficient to support the entire life of native snow trout,” said Aashna Sharma, from Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in Uttarakhand, who co-authored the research paper. “This is majorly a disastrous outcome of our preferences for the invasive brown trout for sport leisure and delicacy choices we have,” she added. The brown trout is an exotic species, which is highly promoted due to its popularity for recreational angling and food delicacy, the researchers said. The fish was introduced under the British rule mostly for sport, they added.

The researchers also emphasised the need to leave the headwaters free from dams. “We have already tapped most of the hydropower from these fragile ecosystems,” said the corresponding author of the study K. Sivakumar from WII. “Damming the headwaters will dilute the opportunities of the natives to seek refuge, as snow trout move towards headwaters under invasion and these stream segments provide conditions not so favourable for the invasive species,” Sivakumar added.

The researchers, including those from Punjab University in Chandigarh, used intensive surveys and geostatistical network models for the study. Watersheds of Asiganga in Uttarakhand and Tirthan in Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh were used as experimental sites to run these models. Study co-author J. A. Johnson from WII noted that the snow trout is an iconic species of high-altitude Himalayan rivers distributed all along the Himalaya from Jammu and Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh. Owing to dearth of information on other high-altitude natives, the snow trout is a potential keystone species for this study to facilitate conservation of all other threatened species in the Himalayan rivers, he added.  (25 Sept. 2021)

Kerala Over 30 alien species found in water bodies Study findings, recently published in Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management, states that Kerala’s waters are home to 28 alien fish species and four alien aquatic weeds or macrophytes. The fish surveys were conducted in 44 rivers and 53 reservoirs of the state. The most common invasive species recorded were Mozambique tilapia and common carp.

Also known as Mozambique tilapia, O.mossambicus is a native of Africa (Wikimedia Commons/TIE)

The maximum number of exotic fish species was recorded from Chalakudy river, which harboured 11 exotic fish species of which eight species were recorded after the flood, which includes the rare mega fish like Arapaima gigas. Another paper published by the team in April noted: “high magnitude flooding events in Aug 2018 & 2019 resulted in the escape of at least ten alien fish species that were recorded for the first time, from the natural waters of the Western Ghats.”

One of the authors of the paper Rajeev Raghavan from the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies explains that several illegal farming systems could have facilitated the escape of alien species. “With increasing extreme climate events, we may see the spread of more alien or non-native species in the state. There needs to be a check on illegal aquaculture in Kerala which is now functioning for aquarium purposes.”  (22 Nov. 2021)

Rise in pufferfish population leave fisherfolk in crisis Changing marine ecosystem is affecting the livelihood of fisherfolk in Kerala. The plight of the fisherfolk at Vallikkunnu, Parappanangadi, Tanur and Ponnani in Malappuram reveals the gravity of the crisis they are in. The increasing population of pufferfish that shreds fishing nets has been causing huge losses to the community.

According to fisherfolk, compared to previous years, the pufferfish population has increased rapidly at an alarming rate. The pufferfish with large external spines, powerful jaws, sharp teeth and self-inflating capacity have been destroying fishing net worth Rs 20 lakh. Using their spines and teeth they will damage the net. If they come as a large group, they not only damage the net but also eat up the catch in it.

Meanwhile, pufferfish is mostly seen during the months of Jan-Feb. There are different types of pufferfish. Most of them contain a toxic substance that is deadly to some other fish and humans. Hence, this kind of fish is not consumed by people. But some people use this fish for treatments in Japan. The decline in the population predators of pufferfish has aggravated the issue.  (14 Jan. 2022) Aug. 2018 report mentions same problem.  (21 Aug. 2018)

Uttar Pradesh Invasive freshwater fish thriving Regional climate model studies in the Ganges river basin predict an increase in the mean annual temperature by 1 to 4 degrees Celsius between 2010 and 2050. This steep incline could potentially open up newer parts of the Ganges river to non-native species such as the common carp, tilapia and African catfish, allowing them to occupy waters previously uninhabited by them. These freshwater species are cultured in water bodies globally, despite being documented as invasive, with farmers and stakeholders prioritising short-term profits over impacts on the ecosystem.  (06 June 2022)

Concerns over Gambusia fish To check the spread of diseases such as dengue and malaria and control the mosquito menace, several local district administrations of Uttar Pradesh are releasing fish, known as Gambusia or mosquitofish, into local water bodies. Researchers, however, are of the opinion that their introduction into local water bodies may actually be harmful to the ecosystem in the long run. They fear that the Gambusia may become more virulent and adaptable, and pose a larger threat to biodiversity and local livelihoods. (24 March 2022)

Diversification of Body Shape in Catfishes of the Ganga  (24 Sept. 2022)

Assam Concern over release of 2 exotic fishEnvironmentalists & fish biologists have expressed serious ramifications over the release of two exotic fish without carrying out proper impact studies to control spread of Japanese Encephalitis, malaria dengue etc. instead of effective native larvivorous fish. The Guwahati Municipal Corp recently released two exotic fishes, namely Gambusia and Guppy (Poecilia), into municipal drains of Guwahati. Aparajita Gogoi of Digboi College viewed that the exotic fish impart adverse effects on native fish as seen in the case of giant Thai Magur which literally wiped out many indigenous local fish over the years. They have urged the authorities to look into alternative method of biocontrol to deal with mosquito larvae by using indigenous fishes.  (05 Nov. 2022)

Riverbed Mining

Madhya Pradesh Sand mining a threat to the mahseer in Narmada Sand mining has adversely impacted the ecology of the Narmada river, including threats to fish and other aquatic species. Despite interventions from the high court and the NGT-Bhopal, illegal sand mining continues in places like Dhar and Badwani. Sand mining affects the natural ecosystem of the river and impacts the fish and birds that are dependent on it. This in turn impacts livelihoods of fishers who rely on the ecosystem. 

Dwarki Bai’s family has been dependent on the fish of Narmada river for generations, but reducing fish stock in the river is impacting their livelihood. Photo by Rohit Shivhare/Mongabay.

The erosion has not only adversely impacted the flora and fauna, but also the livelihoods of fishers. Illegal sand mining has not only affected the livelihood of fisherfolk, but also that of riverbed cultivators. It also quotes SANDRP: “A study conducted in collaboration with the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People revealed that sand mining should also be listed as a major factor” threatening the river.  (29 April 2022)

Karnataka River fishermen urge govt to ban illegal fishing The Traditional River Fisheries Association, Dakshina Kannada (DK), urged the government to initiate legal measures against those who carry out illegal fishing in rivers across the district. Association president Harish Putran told reporters at Patrika Bhavan on April 12 2022 that the fishermen from outside the district had been fishing in rivers instead of fishing in lakes. In Phalguni and Nethravathi rivers, the inland fishermen have been using chemicals to catch fish, he charged.

– He also stressed the need to identify sand blocks in places where fishing is not being carried out. After the sand mining was stopped in the CRZ areas, there are algae that serve as food for fish. The fingerlings and clams are also developing. But, if the permission is given for sand mining again, the fish and clam will be lost, he said.  (12 April 2022)

Uttar Pradesh Floodplain farmers, river dependent communities in Kairana are forced to migrate for livelihoods as excessive, illegal sand mining in Yamuna has been causing riverbank erosion, adversely affecting crops, aquatic life including fish.

Jammu & Kashmir ‘Mafia’ Destroys Rivers and Wildlife In the last few years, contractors have been bringing in heavy machines for riverbed mining, which is degrading and destroying these rivers. Locals believe that an organised mining mafia is working clandestinely backed by officials from several government departments including the geology & mining department, the irrigation & flood control department and the departments of fisheries, revenue and police. The riverbeds of the Doodh Ganga and the Shali Ganga in Budgam district are already over-exploited and unfit for mining. Any further mining will result in a disruption of water flow, which will impact the Hokersar wetland, a designated bird sanctuary just 10 km from Srinagar.  (02 Aug. 2022)

Microplastic Pollution

Karnataka Microplastics in affecting Cauvery fish: IISc study A recent study by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) found the presence of microplastics in the Cauvery river which may have been contributing to growth defects in fish. Researchers believe that microplastics in the river might lead to a negative impact on humans in the long-term. The study found that the water in the KRS Cauvery river was hypoxic or oxygen-deficient. They had also found the presence of microplastics that are at least 5mm small.  

Some studies have shown that microplastics also lead to a decrease in oxygen levels in water, which causes the presence of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), unstable oxygen-based chemicals. ROS were also found in the zebrafish following experiments, with a build-up of the chemicals proven to damage DNA and have similar effects that were found in the fish.  (12 April 2022)

Though microplastic has emerged as one of the most significant pollutants in the aquatic environments, there has been no study on such contaminants in Cauvery waters. Oxygen deficient water along with microplastic and other chemical contaminants might be the reason behind the skeletal deformities and heart damage in fish, the researchers said, noting further research would be needed to understand how microplastics were absorbed from the gut and which organs would be the most susceptible. “Over the last 20 years, there has been a drastic decline in the number of fish species in Cauvery river and the quantity of the fish captured. Microplastic could be a plausible reason because the embryos are more susceptible. But we need more research,” he said.  (11 April 2022)

Uttarakhand Microplastic found in fish of Alaknanda Plastic fibres and particles were recently found in the guts of fishes in Alaknanda river by a team of researchers at Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University. The samples were sent to IIT-Roorkee and a public lab in Chandigarh, where analysis confirmed the presence of microplastic in the fish. To find out the type of plastic and its source in the river, researchers have now decided to collaborate with IIT-Mumbai. Incidentally, the same research team had earlier found “955 microplastics in the water and sediment samples of Alaknanda collected from five different places”. They had indicated that presence of such fine size plastic particles increases the effect of interaction with aquatic organisms, and had cautioned that “this possesses a greater risk to aquatic life”.  (24 May 2022)

Maharashtra Fish found off Mumbai coast contains microplastics The Central Institute of Fisheries Education (CIFE) has found an abundant variety of microplastics in the gastrointestinal (GI) tracts and gills of croaker fish (Johnius dussumieri) netted off Mumbai’s coast. The study had sought to establish the intensity of microplastic pollution in demersal species or bottom-feeders found in the north-eastern coastal waters of the Arabian sea. According to the study, the microplastics found in fish tissue were predominantly black and blue in colour and posed a carcinogenic risk to consumers and organisms in the food chain. It’s high time we evolve a technology wherein MPs are neutralised before allowing sewage waste to flow into the coastal ecosystem,” said one of the CIFE researchers for the study who did not want to be named.  (07 March 2022)

Delhi Study to identify microplastic sources polluting river “The Delhi govt has proposed a study on the presence of microplastic in groundwater & the Yamuna. Many studies have shown that microplastics are harmful for marine life, including fish and small organisms, Priti Banthia Mahesh, chief programme coordinator of Toxics Link, said. “The impact of microplastics on human health needs to be studied urgently. Many toxic chemicals present in plastic are retained in microplastics, they bio-magnify and may have a serious impact on all living beings and environment.” (30 Dec 2021)

Goa CM urges IIT to help with environmental issues In the backdrop of concerns raised by some MLAs from coastline areas, CM Pramod Sawant urged the Indian Institute of Technology, Goa to deal with the threat of sea erosion, micro-plastic looming in fish and environmental issues.  (31 July 2022)

Report Toxic waters, struggling fish Studies have shown that pesticide use is not only a threat to humans, but also animals such as fish. Reduced flow, change in habitat, pollution have affected fish production in the riverine system. Invasive species are fast replacing the traditional ones. Recent studies show that around 21000 MT of pesticides are applied in the basin annually and among these, insecticides dominate followed by herbicides and fungicides.

Pesticides have been found to be one of the important polluters of the river waters due to their high application in the agricultural fields along the river basin. The total usage of pesticides in Ganga basin between year 2012–2017 was 72,741 MT, which is 27 % of the countries’ total pesticide consumption. (8 May 2022)

West Bengal Poisoned wetlands, toxic fish Heavy metal pollution is poisoning the East Kolkata wetlands, affecting fish and posing a threat to the health of humans who depend on this fish for their food. Urgent action is needed!  (27 June 2022)

Disasters & Unsustainable Fishing

Jammu & Kashmir Sinkhole in Brengi stream disrupts flow of water A sinkhole in the Brengi stream at Wandevalgam village of Kokernag in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district has disrupted the water flow posing threat to flora and fauna downstream. This is the second such instance in the recent past in the area. Earlier, in 1995, one such sinkhole developed in the stream barely a few meters above which was later filled up with sand, gravel, and boulders.  (13 Feb. 2022)

A man shows dead trout in Bangi river in Kashmir (Photo: Muneeb Ul Islam/The Quint)

As the trout-rich water of Brengi stream vanished, thousands of fish have died in the stream due to non-availability of water, leaving locals and experts in a lurch as they fear the numbers may gradually rise if a remedy to the sinkhole problem isn’t found.

“The riverbed of the stream was jammed up with dead fish.” Tanveer said. “By the time, department [Fisheries Department] officials arrived at the spot, these fish had already died. The officials had then requested the professional local fishermen to save the rest of the fish by relocating them to a water-abundant portion of the stream.”

“A large number of fish species including trout have perished in the dying stream as they were found on the river bed of the stream when the water was being sucked by the whirlpool formed due to the sinkhole.” Jehangeer Ahmed, another local said. “Saving those fish was in no one’s hand but by delaying filling of this sinkhole, the administration is increasing a threat on aquatic life.”  (17 Feb. 2022)

Trout farming is one of the major activities of the department. The annual trout production touches 262 tonnes. After trout’s introduction in the Valley’s streams, it took J&K another 80 years to think of farming the trout. It was only in the early 1980s that the fisheries department, for the first time established an ambitious trout project at Kokernag with the assistance of the then European Economic Commission. It is the second-largest trout fish farm in Asia. The annual production from the farm has reached 125 tons. Officials say the sinkhole is happening at the different streams and it will not have any impact on the farm.  (18 Feb. 2022)

The popular trout angling stream has suddenly disappeared in a massive sinkhole. Experts say it has caused immeasurable damage to aquatic life, including to trout fish.  (16 Feb. 2022) Brengi is sought after by anglers for its brown trout, and the phenomenon has left the downstream portion dry, killing fish in large numbers.  (17 Feb. 2022) The sinkhole has led to complete disruption of its water flow and large-scale death of trout (fish of salmon family) downstream. (19 Feb 2022)

Uttarakhand Chamoli disaster impacts fish diversity, fishers livelihood The aquatic eco-system continues to suffer from devastating flash flood in Rishiganga and Alaknanda river. The number of fish has decreased in Alaknanda due to the silt load that came with the flood. During the disaster, a large number of fish had died. The life cycle of fish has also been completely affected. The calamity has destroyed fish habitat. The decrease in Himalayan trout in Alaknanda has also affected the livelihood of fishers.  (29 Nov. 2021)

Assam Floods a boon or a bane for fish diversity? Intensive floods not only destroy fish habitats and reproduction, but also lead to introduction of invasive species. Excessive flooding can also lead to pollution of flood plain wetlands through surface runoff from paddy field, tea gardens or other agricultural activities where a variety of pesticides are commonly used for pest management. Pesticides can serve as a major threat to fish diversity.

Floods can have both – negative and positive impacts on inundated areas. The nature, extent and severity of destruction caused by floods can vary according to the nature of the resources, intensity and duration of floods along with many other factors and can have a significant impact on fish biodiversity. Erosion and siltation caused by floods has led to reduction in area and depth in most of the river systems as well as flood plain wetlands. (2 Aug 2022)

Government Plans & Actions

Kerala Miss Kerala not endangered: Aquarists 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 Dec 2021.

Aquarium enthusiast Beta Mahatvaraj of Chennai, who has been documenting the native Indian fish species for years, points out two issues in the Bill. 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.  (20 Jan. 2022)

NMCG set to monetise economic benefits of River Basin The NMCG has called for conducting ‘Water Balance Studies for Ganga River Basin’ for assigning economic value to environmental flow, which could act as trade-off between allocation of water to commercial use and environmental flow. According to NMCG, the idea that the economic values can be monetised and estimates established for environmental services like biodiversity and fisheries. The ministry has called for hiring a global consultant to carry the work.  (02 July 2022)

10K fish fingerlings released in Ganga under ranching plan Over 10,000 fish fingerlings of Indian major carps — catla, rohu and mrigal — were released in the Ganga at Sangam nose under the ranching programme organised by ICAR-Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (CIFRI), Prayagraj, on Monday (March 28). The ranching programme is part of the NMCG project.  (29 March 2022)

Markets alongside Ganga to discourage illegal farming, fishing To encourage the local people in conservation of biodiversity, the Bijnor administration has decided to develop an open-air market and a craft bazar along the river in the area. The setting up of markets is also designed to discourage illegal farming on the river bed. “Villagers sow vegetable seeds and grow wheat crops by using pesticides harmful for wildlife and aquatic species,” the official added. By providing them with alternate source of income, the state government also hopes to curb illegal fishing in Ganga, which flows through the Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary.  (26 April 2022)

Image source: ToI

Bihar VIP Chief Mukesh Sahani releases 71,000 fishes into the Ganges to mark PM Modi’s 71st birthday.  (18 Sept. 2021)

Bhim Singh Rawat (

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