Pollution ‘kills’ spirit of cage fish farmers

Most of the affected farmers are those who had taken up cage fish farming buoyed by the subsidy that the state government had promised to promote captive fish farming.
Kochi’s Edayar witnesses massive fish kill following river pollution due to chemical discharge from industries nearby.
Kochi’s Edayar witnesses massive fish kill following river pollution due to chemical discharge from industries nearby.(Photo | T P Sooraj, EPS)

KOCHI: The day dawned presenting a grizzly sight for the people residing in the industrial stretch of Ernakulam district, comprising places like Edayar, Eloor, Varapuzha, Kothad, Kadamakudy, Cheranallore and Kottuvally, with tonnes of dead fish floating in their fish farms and Periyar river nearby.

Though fish kills have been common over the past several years because of the pollutants released by industries along the banks of the river, the magnitude of the fish kills this time is huge.

And, the fish farmers’ losses have run into crores of rupees. Most of the affected farmers are those who had taken up cage fish farming buoyed by the subsidy that the state government had promised to promote captive fish farming.

Pointing towards the dead baramundi, sea bass and pearl spot, Jolly V N, whose daughter and son-in-law had 13 cages of fish almost ready for harvest, says, “The total loss suffered by the cage fish farmers along the Periyar will amount to crores. We ourselves have suffered a loss of Rs 14 lakh.”

For Gratus Fish Farm, which is in its third year of farming, the fish kill couldn’t have come at a worse time. “This was our only source of income. We have been doing this for the past five years,” says Jolly, the owner.

The farmers are blaming the authorities for their failure to take measures to prevent the pollution of a river which is also the major source of drinking water for the city of Kochi.

According to Hamin Joseph, a cage fish farmer from Varapuzha, he received information about fish leaping out of the water from his workers stationed near his cages. “That happened around 8.49pm on Monday. When I reached the cages, I could see the water turning milky white and a strong smell emanating from the river. When I collected some water in my palms, my skin started to itch,” says Hamin, who suffered a loss of Rs 9 lakh.

All the fish were dead by 9.30pm, he points out. “We have suffered some loss in the past too. However, that used to be around 10 to 20%. And we used to be notified about the opening of the Pathalam regulator-cum-bridge. However, this time, no such information was passed on,” says Hamin, who has lodged a complaint with the police.

Fish lying dead at Edayar
Fish lying dead at Edayar(Photo | T P Sooraj, EPS)

There are more than 150 farmers engaged in cage fish farming in the Periyar, he says. “In Varapuzha alone, there are 30 farmers. Cage fish farming became a hit after the state government began giving a subsidy,” he adds.

Hamin has lost around 4.5 tonnes of fish while Gratus Fish Farm has lost around 8 to 10 tonnes. Jolly blames the industries operating along the riverbank for the pollution. “Unless the authorities, including the Pollution Control Board, take strong steps to check whether the factories, which include those manufacturing pesticides and weedicides, are adhering to the environment guidelines, fish kills will continue to happen in the Periyar,” he says.

Farmers take a look at the polluted water
Farmers take a look at the polluted water

Sajeesh V G, a cage fish farmer from Kottuvally says, “Every time the irrigation department releases the water, it coincides with high tide and there is ample rain too. So, whatever pollutants flow in from the stagnant water upstream get diluted. This time, it was low tide and the rain was not copious enough. All these factors worked towards spelling doom for our farms. The effect is most severe in areas like Cheranallore, Varapuzha, Kadamakudy and Kothad near the regulator cum bridge.”

In the case of Kottuvally, the high tide brought in the polluted water, he adds. Another factor that has placed these farmers in troubled waters is that none of them are insured.

“The situation is such that many of us might stop this venture altogether since there is no guarantee that this might not happen next year too,” says Sajeesh.

According to Jolly, Hamin and Sajeesh, the cage farmers had been preparing for the December harvest, which is the peak sales season for them. “Though we do sell fish in intervals from June, the biggest sale and revenue generation happens during the Christmas and New Year season. But all that has become moot now,” they add.

“We buy juvenile fish at a rate of Rs 50 to Rs 60 per fish. Imagine having to sell at Rs 100 per kg. And after this news who will buy the fish?” ask the farmers.

Jolly says, “For us, the only way is to bury the dead fish. It is like watching our money getting buried in dirt!”

Collector tells PCB to act against errant factories

The district collector on Tuesday ordered the Pollution Control Board to conduct an emergency inquiry into the fish kills in the Periyar and initiate action quickly. Besides, he also initiated the formation of a committee comprising officials from PCB, KWA and the irrigation, industries, health and fisheries departments to probe the incident.

Kerala Mastya Thozhilali Aikyavedi demands strict action against culprits

Highlighting how the sudden release of pollutant-laden water from the regulator-cum-bridge at Pathalam has led to the mass killing of fish in the Periyar, the fishermen’s union has sought action against the errant industries. It has also demanded measures to prevent such incidents. “This has been happening every year. The chemical-laden water, courtesy of the chemical-leather-bone meal factories located in the upper reaches of the bund, is being pumped into the river through many illegal pipe outlets. It is an open secret,” says Charles George, president of the union. To date, no step has been initiated by PCB to shut these pipe outlets or set up sewage treatment plants, he says. It is happening when the fish population in the river has gone down drastically, he adds.

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