|A view of the Bhavani River near Mettupalayam|
The Bhavani River, flowing down the slopes of the Western Ghats all the way through Erode and further down to join Cauvery downstream, is soon losing its rich marine life as wildlife and law enforcement officials turn the other way.
Indiscriminate fishing and other illegal practices adopted by locals who live along the course of the river combined with a callous attitude among Public Works Department (PWD) and forest department officials to protect marine life, has depleted the river of a large fish population over the years, say local fishermen and nature enthusiasts.
During September 2012, the practice of blast fishing by villagers which involves using detonators and crude bombs to explode inside mud pools along the stretch of the Bhavani River came to the limelight when a 25-year-old man from Velliapalayam near Mettupalayam died after the detonator exploded in his hands.
“Usually, the bomb that is not packed with any kind of shrapnel but just the explosives, blasts in the mud pool killing all the fish in the pool. The force of the blast explodes the lungs and other body parts of the fish that die instantly in its impact. This is called blast fishing and the practice is a grave offence,” said an official of the fisheries department. “But, this is common across Tamil Nadu and especially prevalent in Coimbatore area.”
When small fish die in large numbers, it gravely affects the reproductive capacity of the species in a big way.
Sexagenarian Gordon Andrew Thompson from Karamadai near Mettupalayam is an avid angler and has been fishing in the Bhavani since he was 12. “I have seen the depletion of fish in this region firsthand and it’s a tragic tale,” he narrates.
Gordon is one of those few anglers in the state who has caught a gigantic Mahseer measuring four feet long and weighing around 28 kilograms in the Bhavani River during the past. He claims that today hardly any fish grows up to more than a foot before they are killed and consumed.
“While blast fishing and lack of care for marine life is one reason for the depletion of fish population in the river, the lack of planning on behalf of the PWD department while constructing check dams is another reason,” Gordon says.
He points out that most fish that flow downstream during their growing stages, swim upstream back to to source to spawn. “To help fish spawn, sensible engineers provide ladders across veers that help the fish go back to steady waters and breed. But, to the best of my knowledge none of the dams here have any kind of ladders. Hence, fish that swim downstream cannot go back to spawn hampering their breeding,” he says.
Nature enthusiasts in the region point out that despite making repeated complaints to police and forest department, no real action has been taken to check blast fishing or other practices that hamper marine life.
Angling, once a popular sport, lost amid the tides of time
Until about a decade ago, the crystal clear streams and rivulets of the Western Ghats were favourite haunt for sport fishing, a legacy that has been prevailing in the hills for the last hundred years and now lost.
|Angler Gordon at home near Karamadai with his catch from Bhavani River|
The art of fishing for sport, popularly known as angling or fly fishing was introduced in the hills during the British era and has been prevalent since the 1890s in the hills when the first hatchery for rainbow trout was set up at Avilanchi near Ooty. The Rainbow Trout is a species that is a favourite for angling.
In sport fishing, the fish caught by an angler is later released back into the water alive causing it only minimal harm and ensuring that there is always enough fish to continue angling.
Angler Gordon Andrew Thompson from Karamadai points out that rainbow trouts were introduced from New Zealand to Sri Lanka and then brought to Nilgiris, Kodaikanal and Munnar to encourage sport fishing several decades ago. “It is a delicate art where the angler waits patiently for several hours trying to overpower a large fish to submission. Once the game is over, the catch is released back to the waters,” Gordon said.
He laments that the present generation has been deprived of the pleasures of sport fishing as the state decided to stop encouraging angling about a decade ago for operative reasons.
“We have been making several proposals to the forest department to re-introduce angling in the Bhavani River and other rivers in the Western Ghats. The government could provide licenses for angling, set up a few log cabins along the hills and encourage the sport besides generating revenue. But our proposals have never seen the light of day,” Gordon said.
Fisheries department officials at the Bhavanisagar Dam said that they did provide licenses for sport fishing. “But, we get requests only from army personnel based in Wellington and Coonoor and have issued about 20 licenses so far. We hardly get or four requests for angling here,” an official of the fisheries department said.