Patrolling of the Ganga has been ordered in Bihar after reports surfaced of local fishermen netting smaller fish that are the food supply of the endangered Gangetic Dolphin.
“We have ordered the divisional forest officers in Vaishali and Saran to conduct regular patrolling on the Ganga and initiate tough action against those involved in these acts,” Bihar’s additional principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) Rakesh Kumar said on September 12.
Officials have also been asked to register cases and seize small nets being used for fishing by fisherfolk or others.
Some fishermen claim many of their peers caught small fish out of ignorance. There was a need to launch extensive awareness campaigns in the areas where patrolling has been ordered.
“My family has been surviving on the river and it pains me to see the fishing of small fish which has registered a rise in recent years,” said Mahendra Sahni, 58, who runs a fish shop in Patna.
“They do not know that if they net small fish, the bigger ones would die too. But they are just not ready to listen to sane voices,” said Sahni, who sells 50 to 60 kg of fish every day.
He is also aware that small fish are the main food of the Ganga’s dolphins but added that the officials concerned were not bothered. “There must be regular river patrolling and awareness drives must be launched among the fisher community to make them aware about how killing small fishes is not good for the environment,” he said.
A recent comprehensive census conducted along nearly a 1,000 kilometre (km)-stretch of the Ganga and its two tributaries, the Gandak and Ghaghara, in Bihar counted 1,150 dolphins in what environmentalist said was a sign of a healthy river ecosystem. That is because Gangetic river dolphins can survive only in clean and fresh water.
The census was conducted by three separate teams involving experts from the Zoological Survey of India, Wildlife Trust of India and Tilka Manjhi University, Bhagalapur, in different stretches of the three rivers in between November 18 to December 10 last year.
During the extensive survey lasting for 23 days, 700 dolphins were counted in the 300 km stretch of Ganga from Mokama to Manihari, 300 in another 300 km stretch of the Ganga from Buxar to Mokama, 100 in the Gandak river and 50 in the Ghaghara river.
The researchers used the visual survey method to conduct their study through boats, Coordinator of Vikramshila Biodiversity Research and Education centre, Bhagalpur, Sunil Kumar Choudhary, said.
The campaign to save freshwater mammals took a sudden leap after the Centre declared river dolphins as India’s “national aquatic animal” in 2009. This happened while the Manmohan Singh government was at the Centre.
The government had acted on the proposal moved by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.