Periyar fish kill puts livelihood of many at risk, poses environmental threat

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The farmers engaged in cage fish farming have suffered losses to the tune of several lakhs of rupees. Photos: Special arrangement

Kochi: The massive fish kill in the Periyar along the Eloor-Edayar industrial stretch here due to alleged polluting by factories has posed a huge economic as well as environment threat to the region where inland fishing is a major source of income.

With the effluents allegedly discharged from industrial units killing nearly the entire fish population in the region, including the cage farms set up in the river, the local fish farmers have lost their livelihood while uncertainty of several levels is staring at them. The farmers engaged in cage fish farming have suffered losses to the tune of several lakhs of rupees. The rotten fish washed ashore the river pose a health threat too. Fears over the damage caused to the riverine ecosystem add to the people’s woes.

Jolly V N, who runs Gravitas Fish Farm along with his partners, pegged his loses at around Rs 13 lakh. He had cultivated around 1,000 hatchlings each in 13 cages.

Farmers claim that the Pollution Control Board’s inability to rein in the industrial units has resulted in the tragedy. Photo: Special arrangement

He is worried about how he can revive his aquaculture facility. He had to engage five workers to clean up the mess on his premises on Wednesday. “The foul smell emanating from dead fish has been going up to one km from the farms. People had disposed of tonnes of stale fish. In the previous years, we used to lose 10-20 per cent of fish population due to pollution of the river. This time it’s a total washout. Nothing is left in the farms,” Jolly said.

The fish kill has also spoiled Jolly’s income from the Chinese nets he has erected. “We used to get an average of Rs 1,500 from the fish caught from the nets. Now, we cannot expect anything from it for the next six months,” he said.

Sudeep K R of Varappuzha echoed Jolly’s concerns. He had seven cages with 2,500 hatchlings each. “In the past five months I have spent around Rs 5 lakh. It includes the expenses for buying the hatchlings and the fish feed. He also has a couple of Chinese nets which have become useless now.

Sudeep believes that the Pollution Control Board’s inability to rein in the industrial units has resulted in the tragedy. “We are planning to move the high court seeking justice. We will not let the culprits go this time. Our losses are so huge,” he said.

Fisherfolk of Varappuzha, whose main source of income is inland fish farming, are also among the affected lot. With only less than two weeks to school reopening, the fish die-off has put a question mark on their daily income.

On Tuesday morning, tonnes of fish were found dead and floating in the Periyar as well as caged farms in areas Edayar, Eloor, Varappuzha, Kothad, Kadamakudy, Cheranalloor and Kottuvally. Fish farmers allege that pollutants released by industries along the banks of the river caused the tragedy. The PCB has meanwhile passed the blame on to the Irrigation Department suggesting that the sudden opening of the shutters of Pathalam regulator bridge might have caused the fish die-off. The PCB's initial assessment is that the oxygen level in the river might have drastically gone down when stagnant water with zero oxygen content got mixed with the water downstream when the shutters were opened following heavy rain. The PCB has collected samples of water from the river and dead fish for analysing the cause of the incident. The samples will be tested at the central laboratory of the Kerala University of Fisheries and Oceanic Studies.

District Collector NSK Umesh has ordered the PCB to conduct an emergency inquiry into the incident. A committee has also been formed with representatives of PCB, departments of irrigation, health department, industries, fisheries and water authority to probe the incident in detail. The committee has been instructed to submit its report to the collector in a week.

The deputy director of fisheries department has been asked to assess the loss of the fish stock and submit a report to the fisheries director in three days.

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