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Attack of the African Cat Fish

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An imported species threatens the local fish population around Bangalore

An imported species threatens the local fish population around Bangalore

The Clarias Gariepinus is over one metre in length and easily weighs more than 25 kg. It’s a big omnivorous African cat fish variety that feeds on all living creatures—fish, frogs, tadpoles, larvae, some varieties of plants and even chicken, fish and beef waste collected from meat shops. It can survive in adverse weather as well as in highly polluted water bodies. When the fish was first introduced to be bred on the outskirts of Bangalore, no one had any clue about its insatiable hunger. Alarm bells started ringing a decade ago when scientists warned that the species would feed on local aqua life. “This particular variety was completely destroying habitats. The absence of a predator fish to rein in this breed made them very dangerous,’’ says MF Rehman, a former scientist at the Centre for Inland Fisheries Research Institute.

In a recent fish census conducted by the fisheries department, scientists found a decrease in the numbers of native fish species in Bangalore’s water bodies. There were several factors responsible— water pollution due to dumping of construction waste, sewage and industrial effluents. But a study found that the African cat fish was also responsible.

Waking up to this danger, the Karnataka government recently raided over 200 farms, mainly in north Bangalore.

The African cat fish is banned under Section 5 of the Environment Protection Act. But the law has never been applied on any farm owner.

Some farmers have approached the Karnataka High Court to stop officials from destroying their farms.

“We have given the officials a guarantee that we will not breed African cat fish. Despite this, they are destroying our livelihoods without properly checking what varieties we are breeding,’’ says Sageer Ahmed, a farm owner.

Rehman says the problem persists in different parts of the country. “Unfortunately, government officials often turn a blind eye to the breeders. The fish is popular as it breeds fast and results in a good income for those who fish in local water bodies. It’s also sold openly in markets, which is an offence. The government should take steps to eradicate this species before it turns native species extinct,’’ he says.

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