Dear readers, few days back I went to Kaptai Lake. This 1,722 square kilometre lake is called the treasure of biodiversity. For a long time, it has been covering a large portion of demand for freshwater fish in Bangladesh. Kaptai Lake has the fame for producing delicious fish. Thousands of fishermen and small traders make their livelihood from this lake. After the establishment of Kaptai dam, the lake has turned into even more precious. This lake is a heaven of natural beauty. However, after 50 years of its establishment, some big changes were noticed.
Rangamati Fish Landing Centre, run by Bangladesh Fisheries Development Corporation (BFDC), tells the current state of fish diversity in the lake. Some of the fish varieties have already extinct, for example Mohashoal, says a trader at the landing centre. Earlier, there were many fish varieties (especially carp), but we don’t see them nowadays, says another fisher.
Some fishers and traders say, there were some varieties of fish which they saw back in 1993 or some back in 1997. So, it’s been quite a while.
The landing centre is very busy with vibrant presence of the fish traders and fishers. Strangely, everything here revolves around two fishes only. However, we love these two fishes for both their taste and nutrition. One is Kachki and the other is Chapila. Currently, no other fish is quite available in Kaptai Lake, say the fishers and traders.
“Once there used to be Rui, Katla, Chital, Mrigal etc. But today we don’t get these,” says a trader.
“I caught a 17 kilogram Mohashoal and a 20 kilogram Boal, however, today, we the fishers don’t say this anymore,” a fisherman was sharing his experience with me.
So what’s the reason behind the unavailability? Since its inception, people only ate fish from the lake and hardly there were any purification works. It was 60 to 75 feet deep in the past, but now it is only 22 feet deep or perhaps some more.
River dredging and renovation is urgent to bring back life to the lake. It will save the fishermen, traders and above all the precious water resources.
Some fishermen say, the authorities concerned are not working enough and also not facilitating them or the traders.
An average of 30 tonnes of fish are gathered at the fish landing centre. During winter, the availability rate goes down. Besides during May, June and July, for the sake of carp breeding, fishing is banned in Kaptai Lake. For nine months fishers catch fish and both the lake and the landing centre remain extremely busy. They all come to the lake from different regions for catching fish and fishes get sold at the landing centre while the traders need to pay taxes to BFDC authority. Here for each kilogram of Chapila and Kachki, BFDC is collecting Tk 17.5 (0.20 USD) as tax. Considering this, the price of fish is fixed. The tax varies from one variety to other.
“We pay Tk 17.5 per kg to the government, you know for Chapila, Kachki, Mola and other small fishes,” says a trader.
“And for Ail fish we have to pay a tax of Tk 22 (0.26 USD) and for Shing Tk 30 (0.35 USD), per kilogram,” the trader added.
As per the government accounts, the area of Kaptai Lake is about 58 thousand and 300 hectares and during the monsoon, it becomes 68 thousand and 800 hectares. The overall depth of the lake is nine metre. The maximum depth is 36 metre. There are 66 varieties of local fishes in the lake. There are six varieties of foreign fishes and two varieties of prawns. Commercially, 36 varieties of fishes are collected from the lake.
But the reality says that the number of fishes available here is not even close to this calculation. Not even 10 varieties of fishes can be found for commercial collection throughout the entire year.
However, the fishermen and traders do remember how greatly the lake was enriched with abundance of different fish varieties. The government is also saying in a year, they have released fries worth Tk 7 lakh. However, fishers say, they didn’t get any result for this initiative.
BFDC Chairman Dildar Ahmed said they have built their own hatchery to release fries in the lake and good results will definitely come this year.
Labourers at the landing centre complained about not getting enough ice. They produce the ice here but have to bring a lot more from Chattogram. They also complained about the packaging facility. They believe due to the negligence from the authorities concerned, these anomalies are taking place. The same complain comes from 43 licensed traders at the landing centre.
In May this year, Ashraf Ali Khan Khasru, state minister for Fisheries and Livestock, came here. He witnessed the problems. We also talked to Rangamati Deputy Commissioner (DC) AKM Mamunur Rashid in this regard. DC Mamunur said BFDC is assigned to work for the development of Kaptai Lake. He believes more developments can be made and he is sure that BFDC chairman is working on it.
BFDC Chairman Dildar agrees that carp variety has decreased a lot. Although, the earning per month from the lake is about Tk 1 crore (1,18,273 USD), there is expenditure behind infrastructure and salaries.
He also believes that the tax that BFDC is taking from fishers is not that much and the government is giving a lot of subsidies. When fishers are not authorized to net fish at Kaptai, they are also given food and other supports, says Dildar.
Dear readers, Bangladesh is enriched with extensive potential water resources distributed all over the country and Kaptai Lake is one of the most important freshwater body for the resources.
The falling water level in the largest manmade lake of the country is creating various problems. As you know, Kaptai Lake was created as part of the Kaptai Hydroelectric Power Plant Project, it also became the source of livelihood for locals through fish farming, river communication, irrigation and tourism.
Commercial exploitation of fish from Kaptai Lake started in 1965. At the start, major carp were the dominant fish species but now carp production has decreased. This is where the local fishers and traders have complaints. I believe, with realistic and effective support to bring back the golden days of Kaptai, the authorities concerned will contemplate more. The word, ‘abundance’ will spread across the lake for sure.