Although Halda, the lone source of natural carp breeding in South Asia, is deemed as a sanctuary for broodfish, the river is now turning into a death trap for mother fish, thanks to rampant netting and plying of mechanised boats.
At least 35 broodfish were netted to death and another nine killed after being hit by mechanised boats in the river in the last two months -- that too ahead of spawning season, according to Halda River Research Laboratory.
At least five spots next to the river were identified, where around 50 people were seen netting the broodfish, said locals. The areas are Nangolmura, Forhadabad, Chipatholi, Gorduara and Madarsha.
Broodfish released sample eggs (before releasing eggs in full) on May 5, and are now waiting for heavy rainfall accompanied by gusty wind and thunderbolt, which creates a congenial atmosphere for breeding.
The abovementioned incidents are taking place amid a ban on catching the fish, imposed by the Department of Fisheries around 10 years ago. Recently, the department imposed another ban on plying of mechanised boats in the river.
The ban area is 40km -- ranging from Nazirhat to Kalurghat -- and only two Ansar members have been assigned to oversee that, making it almost impossible for them to supervise such a huge area.
Halda crisscrosses through three upazilas of Chattogram, but only Hathazari upazila administration was found actively looking after the river while Fatikchhari and Raozan administrations were showing apathy in this regard.
In last three months, Hathazari administration destroyed at least 1.12 lakh metres of current net, seven dredgers and seven mechanised boats, and sentenced two persons to jail, said Ruhul Amin, upazila nirbahi officer of Hathazari.
He said among the five spots they identified, Gorduara and Uttar Madarsha were the riskiest points for broodfish. Most of the nets were seized from there and 90 percent of owners are from Raozan, he added.
Prof Manzoorul Kibria, an eminent researcher with extensive work on Halda under his portfolio, said some unscrupulous people also pour poison in the river to catch the fish.
“It’s not just the broodfish that are being affected, the toxic water also damages the aquatic ecosystem there as well.”
He said they learned about this during their recent field operation. Stern measures have to be taken against those involved, he added.
“The government must come forward to raise awareness among those living on the banks of Halda,” he said.
Such campaigns should be initiated at school level as well to protect the fish, Prof Kibria added.
Contacted, Mominul Haque, Chattogram district fisheries officer, said they were conducting drives to curb the illegal practices to save broodfish.
He, however, said they had four Ansar members for the job before but even that number has dwindled.
“Currently, two Ansar members are guarding the river. We are trying to increase the number.”
Mushfiqur Rahman, UNO of Fatikchhari, said, “Halda always tops our priority list. We stopped extracting sand from the river, mud from its banks and netting of broodfish.”
Howver, the UNO could not provide any specific detail of the drives they conducted when asked for it.
Shamim Hossen, who was the UNO of Raozan and recently promoted to the post of assistant deputy commissioner of Bandarban, told The Daily Star they tried their best to stop the netting of broodfish.
“We were unable to stop it completely as it’s not possible to guard the entire river round the clock. Miscreants catch the fish late at night, making it difficult for us to locate and arrest them,” he added.