Garo Hills fish kills

Mar 22, 2018 | Outreach

Shocking photos of a devastating mahseer harvest from the beautiful Garo Hills of Meghalaya state in the far northeast of India gave rise to anger among both locals and the angling community on social media recently.

Some of the many fish captured

While there is no absolute confirmation of the method of killing the huge numbers of Tor putitora and Neolissochilus hexagonolepis, the source of the photos suggested that either dynamite or poison was used to deliver the fish to waiting nets.

Garo Hills fishermen in coordination

The number of onlookers, who can be seen in the photos, watching the events unfold suggests that this was a deliberate and coordinated effort to take fish for sale or the pot. Local conservation activist, Bhutto Marak, has said that growing numbers of his contacts are not happy at the numbers of fish taken, or the methods used.

Garo Hills locals look on

Some of the photos show netsmen in action, which could suggest a harvest taking place for a local festival. There are also no signs of fish floating in any of the wider pictures, neither are there any other fish species in the catch, both of which suggest a more specific method of harvest was used.

Garo Hills netsmen in action

Certainly, among the Indian angling fraternity, there is widespread condemnation of the continued use of destructive fishing methods in these fragile hill streams and rivers. This was echoed by the East Garo Hills District Magistrate, Mr Ramkumar, who released an order banning the use of destructive fishing methods. His ordinance states that “(I) do hereby prohibit the use of illegal methods for killing fish i.e. with the use of dynamite, generators, bleaching powder, DDT/other poisonous chemicals/herbs, or any other unnatural method for the killing of fish”.

Garo Hills Magistrates Order

There has been a call for members of Mahseer Trust and All India Game Fishing Association to travel to the area and conduct awareness camps to explain about sustainable methods of harvest. This is an area in which there is considerable scope for progress, given that village communities usually have ultimate control over river habitat in the northeast Hill States of India.

The continuing failure to enforce laws on river protection suggests that fines and imprisonment are empty threats, and are clearly no deterrent. There is also plenty of evidence to suggest that using blunt tools to stop poaching often leads to more destructive retaliation. The use of the law also presupposes that these people were poaching; they may have had every right to take fish. What needs to change is both a wider understanding that river habitats, supporting high levels of biodiversity are of vital need in the country, and that finding ways to ensure there are fish in the river in future will safeguard the local populations’ food supply.

An education project, to demonstrate exactly why destructive fishing methods are not sustainable is far more likely to bring about a transition away from future devastation. To support our continued efforts to educate about sustainable fishing methods, both for harvest and recreation, and to help protect critical mahseer habitat, why not sign up as a supporter? Or consider making a donation to further our work?

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