Opinion Times

Mahanadi: Of Disappearing Lives, Degrading Livelihoods


by Prabhudatta Rath

The aquatic biodiversity always supports livelihoods and sustainable development. But due to the absence of a proper riverine fishery policy, more than 1450 families of Subarnapur district from the fishing community of three different castes- gingrakeuta and jhara are either losing their livelihood or their income reduced to one-tenth. Over a decade of the frequent use of explosives and pesticides by fish traders for easy fishing, the dynamics of the fish population have changed drastically. The amount of collection of fish by a traditional fisherman depends upon the density of fish population of the fishing area of the river. Due to illegal fishing by using explosive and poison, a large number of fish have perished, including numerous fingerlings and other species of fish which are not edible.

According to Pabitra Naik, 51, “There are about 45 to 50 types of edible fish found in river Mahanadi from which now six species of fish locally named muserjalanggajsikhursachinajhuri,turu, and balia are rarely found in the river. Before 20 years, after fishing 3 to 5 hours, we were able to collect 7 to 10 kgs of fish and now, even if we spend a complete day for fishing, we are barely able to collect 2 to 3 kgs. Nowadays, it is quite impossible to run a family from fishing alone.”

Astonishingly, if in a single blast 45 to 50 kgs of edible fish died, only 10 to 12 kgs are collectible and the rest fishes and other nonedible species are a complete waste. The non-collected victims by the blast remain in the water, turning into a prime reason of pollution.

 According to Madhusudan Mishra, district magistrate & collector, Subarnapur district, “The administration is quite vigilant about the trading and illegal fishing practices in river Mahanadi. We are creating awareness within the peoples of river bank villages and request them to inform us if such illegal activities are happening or going to happen. Our police department is also ready to prevent such type of illegal fishing practices because it is directly hampering the biodiversity of the river Mahanadi and the livelihood of a large numbers people.”

Nevertheless, several types of both migratory and resident birds like Lapwing, Grey Partridge, Terns, and little green Bee-eater are now not found in the riparian ecosystem of Mahanadi due to deficiency of food and fear.

Ranjan Panda, noted water expert who has earned the epithet of Water Man of Odisha rues, “With the growing demand for fish, many traders have turned into fishing in Mahanadi. Unlike traditional fisherfolk, they use destructive methods such as blasting and chemical poisoning. This kills fish of all varieties and other species in the river, pollutes the river ecosystem and results in drastic reduction in fish biodiversity. A lot of species that people don’t eat, and hence cannot be sold, are left out in the river itself creating more pollution and destruction. Estimates show that such wastes due to unsustainable fishing can sometimes go up to 90 per cent of the total catch. This must be stopped or else we may lose riverine fish species and related biodiversity in a few years”.

The fishing community quibbles that despite a pile of complaints, the district administration has not swung into action.

But the superintendent of police Subarnapur, Deviprasad Dash said, “We deployed police personnel nearby river Mahanadi and have a sharp eye over the illegal activities done by such criminals. We will take action against them who are illegally using explosives for fishing.”

There is an urgent need to focus attention on conservation and management of threatened fish species present in these rivers for saving from further endangerment. Mahanadi renders livelihood and nutritional security to 1450 poor fishing families of Subarnapur district through its rich biodiversity and needs a needful and proper action.

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