River Fisheries

Riverine Fisheries of India: Great Resources, Devastating Plunder, Blundering State Policy, Imperilled Fishing Communities

The Resource
The Riverine Fisheries are a major part of Inland Fisheries where fish is captured directly from different river systems with the help of traditional or modern crafts and gears. The riverine fishery resources of India are immense as the country is gifted with large number of productive riverine systems. The major river systems of India on the basis of drainage can be divided broadly into two-(i) Himalayan river system (Ganga, Indus and Brahmaputra), and (ii) Peninsular river system (East coast and West coast river system). The country’s major and minor rivers along with their tributaries, minor streams, creeks and all other microlotic systems have an estimated combined length of 45000 km. These along with the numerous man-made canals have a combined length of 0.17 million km. The Ganga river system and its tributaries have a combined length of 12500 km and the Brahmaputra is 4023 km long. The peninsular rivers, Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna and Cauvery, cover 6437 km while the west-flowing Narmada and Tapti of Western Ghats have a combined length of 3380 km. The floodplain lakes are primarily continuum of major rivers. These are in the form of oxbow-lakes (Mauns, Chaurs, Jheels, Beels as they are called locally), especially in
Assam, Manipur, West Bengal, Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh (212.213 thosand ha). They occupy important position in the inland fisheries of India because of their magnitude as well as their production potential. Inland Capture Fisheries total production stands at 3.2 million metric tonne which is more than 25% of the total fish production. With proper conservation of rivers and connected water bodies, fish stock replenishment and sustainable harvesting the production of fish from inland capture fisheries may be trebled.

The inland water resources harbour the original germplasm of one of the richest and diversified fish fauna of the world, comprising 930 fish species belonging to 326 genera, out of about 25,000 total fish species recorded world-wide.

Riverine Fishing: An Oldest Occupation
Right from the dawn of civilisation human beings, as hunter-gatherer, took to fishing for a major source of

food. With passage of time and acquiring of knowledge and skill fishing crystallised into the livelihood practice of some sections of people, thus giving rise to fishing communities. Fishing villages or fishers’ dwellings by riversides or by the side of waterbodies bear testimony to an oldest and intimate bond among water bodies, fish resources and fishers.
The rivers of India are being subjected to excessive stress and consquent adverse effects are manifested in poor fish landing and loss of livelihood of fishing communities. Fishing villages on the banks of rivers or in the river basins are pictures of impoverishment and desertions. Hundreds of thousands of riverine fishing communities have been migrating to other occupations and areas in search of livelihood.

Dams & Water Allocation
According to a 2010 report by the Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (CIFRI), “Severe and drastic changes in the entire hydrological cycle of the river by dams and water abstractions has affected recruitment of most species … Larger dams are major cause of degradation of aquatic environment and disruption of livelihood of communities dependent upon the fishery along the rivers. In India, natural flow of all major rivers have been regulated for fulfilling water demand of agriculture and the power sector, without giving any attention to the fisheries sector. As a result, rivers have lost their character and fisheries have suffered

huge losses.”

Industrial effluents, agricultural runoffs, municipal waste water – all find their ways into the rivers. Rivers have been turned into waste water drains. Chemicals in agriculture have finished off paddy field fisheries. It is poisoning river waters through run off.  Inland Waterways River Linking Industries are counting profit by releasing effluents into the watershed without treatment. Municipalities, entrusted with city environment and public health responsibilities are also releasing untreated waste waters in watersheds or rivers. As a result the river waters are turning dead, bereft of water life including fish.

Inland Waterways
New addition to the stress on our rivers has been the 111 National Waterways announced by the Government. Our rivers, or what is left of them, are going to be subjected to unprecedented scale of ship and barge movements with associated dredging, spillage of toxic materials like coal and fly ash, increase in turbidity, sudden turbulence and disturbance, shock wave induced erosion, installation of cargo terminals with further pollution and encroachments on river water and banks together with intermittent ship capsizes causing massive pollution including oil spill. Massive shrinkage of fishing areas, devastation of fish habitats and spawning areas resulting in reduced fish stock with damage to boats and nets are the direct impacts on fisheries.

River Linking
The Indian government has proposed to transfer 173 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water annually from “water-surplus” watersheds of the Ganges-Brahmaputra to “water-deficit” watersheds in the western and southern parts of India via construction of 14, 900 km long canals and 35 reservoirs. While it is very doubtful whether the proposed transboundary transfer of water may solve the flood-drought problem, it is sure to adversely impact geologic, hydrologic, ecological, and socio-economic functioning of rivers in downstream regions thus affecting riverine fisheries.

The Government while deciding on water allocation from rivers, building of dams and reservoirs, installation of national waterways or linking of rivers never ever consults with the fishing communities let alone taking their informed consent. Fishing communities, who are the largest primary nonconsumptive stakeholders of river waters and riverine fish resources, have no right over those resources.
First and foremost, the small scale riverine fishers need –
• The right to access and sustainably use river waters and fish resources; and
• The right to protect the river waters and fish resources.

This means fisheries and fishing communities must be provided with equitable right in decision making on and execution of all plans and projects that affect rivers, river basins, watershed and riverine fish resources.

Besides this the riverine fishers, like other fishing communities, need –
• Right to infrastructure, finance, market and social security.

From the Hill Streams, Rapids, Pools and Lakes to the
Basins and Estuaries of Great Rivers Like
Ganga, Brahmaputra, Mahanadi, Godavari, Krishna, Kaveri, Zuari, Mandovi, Narmada, Tapti
The Fishing Communities are Regrouping Under the Banner of
National Platform of Small Scale Fish Workers
To Reclaim Their Rights.
The Future of Our Rivers and Riverine Fisheries Lies with Them.

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