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Fish swim for survival in troubled waters of Rymben

Species in the river face extinction following 'over-exploitation', says researcher from St Anthony's College

By Andrew W. Lyngdoh in Shilong
  • Published 14.03.17
The Rymben in Meghalaya. Telegraph picture

Shillong, March 13: The fish species of the Rymben river in Meghalaya are currently in deep water.

The species are facing extinction owing to "over-exploitation".

This has been revealed by a city-based researcher, Bashida Massar, who has been carrying out a study of the Rymben river at Lapalang village under Pynursla block of East Khasi Hills, along the India-Bangladesh border.

Surrounded by rocks all along, the Rymben is a torrential river, strong and mighty during summer, but lean during winter. The river is called Borhir or Borhill just before it enters the plains of Bangladesh, Massar told The Telegraph.

Massar, who is an associate professor in zoology at St Anthony's College here, said her research documents the fish species inhabiting the river.

According to her, the Rymben harbours 10 species of fish. These include the chocolate mahseer (khasaw), Balitora brucei (loach, locally known as dar), cat fishes ( mai, briang), danio (shalynnai), true suckers ( Garragotyla and khasi garra, locally known as kew and sher), Schistura (syngkai), perch ( badis, locally called khalawei) and snakehead ( thli).

She added that five of these species (khasaw, mai, dar, kew and khalawei) belong to the threatened category of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's red list of endangered species.

The Borhir harbours a variety of freshwater fishes because fishes do migrate between India and Bangladesh.

So far, she said, 33 species have been documented.

These species include chola barb, olive barb, reba carp, Labeo gonius, common carp, minnow, Gongota loach, scavenger loach, zipper loach, Tistabatasio, Day's mystus, catfishes, Gangetic mystus, stinging catfish, angler cat fish, Asian needle fish, swamp eel, spiny eel, glassy fish, Gangetic leaf fish, banded gaurami, snakehead, puffer fish and freshwater shark.

As these fishes are commonly available in Asia, almost all of them do not belong to the threatened category.

Massar said 34 years ago, local food, including vegetables and meat collected from forests and a variety of fresh fishes captured from Rymben and Borhir, was easily available in Lapalang village.

However, at present, it was no longer easy to get mahseer or any other fish from the river. She said at times people did get fresh fish from Bangladesh through the border markets.

"Though only a few species were listed in the threatened category, all of them are endangered and their numbers are declining. The main reason is overexploitation," she said.

Massar said the residents use all kinds of means to catch the fish, like nets, rods, hooks and chemicals.

"Fishing continues unabated, and animals are on the verge of extinction. There is an unprecedented increase in human population, leading to an increasing demand for food resources," she added.

Moreover, she said unlike other places, in the whole of the area, there is no other means of fish production. People depend on rohu and katla of Shillong brought from outside Meghalaya.

She added that local communities need to understand the worth of value of nature and its resources.

The need of the hour, she said, was to create awareness among the locals or the coming generations will never know that such fishes ever existed in their own villages. She said the fishes of Rymben need "urgent protection".

However, she said steps were already being taken to conserve the fishes. For instance, the Lapalang village Durbar has prohibited fishing using nets at night.

An awareness programme was also organised for students of St Xavier's High School, Lapalang, on the importance and conservation of species.

But Massar has appealed to those in authority to act immediately before it was too late.

The data is based on the indigenous knowledge on fishes given from the local residents and scientific knowledge with the help of scientists from the Zoological Survey of India here, she said.