Chilika Fishery on a recovery path

Bhubaneswar: Fisheries, which occupy a prime position amongst all the natural resources of Chilika lake, have started showing signs of recovery after recording low catch for years.

Supporting the livelihood of more than two lakh fisherfolks living in and around the lake, the fish fauna of Chilika lake is characterized by the composite of freshwater, brackish and marine elements.

The fisheries in the lake started declining rapidly in late 1980s following ecological degradation of the lake.

The highest landing of 8872 MT was recorded in 1986-87 (pre restoration period) that declined to touch the nadir with all time low of 1274 MT in 1995-96, official sources said on Sunday.

In addition to the decline of the catch the decline of the species diversity was also encountered, a senior official of Chilika Development Authority (CDA) said.

The hydrological intervention for restoration of Chilika lake with opening of a new mouth in 2000 resulted in significant recovery of the lake fishery.

Following this in 2000-01 there was a sudden leap of fish yield from a meagre 1745 MT in 1999-2000 (prior to opening of the mouth) to 11,989 MT in 2001-2002 (about 7 fold increase) and the rising trend continued till?it touched the all time high?of 14,053 MT in 2003-2004, showing 8 fold increase in comparison to pre-restoration year (1999-2000).

The average fish landing during 2001-02 to 2009-10 has been 11,676 MT per annum showing a significant increase of 569 per cent over the pre restoration year (1999-2000). During this financial year the annual production from the lake is likely to exceed 12000 mts mark, sources said.

Along with productivity, fish diversity of the lake also improved after restoration. As per the assessment carried out recently the species diversity stands at 317 fish, 28 prawns and shrimps, 35 brachyuran crabs (12 species being edible) and 2 spiny lobsters, they said.

It had become imperative to assess the?maximum sustainable yield (MSY) and determine the carrying capacity of the lake.

CDA commissioned the services of?Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (CIFRI) of ICAR, Barrackpore, Kolkata during the year 2003-05 to assess the MSY and to determine the carrying capacity of the lake.

Based on a 24 months assessment CIFRI determined the Fish yield potential of the lake as 27,135 MT and the maximum sustainable yield as 11,376 MT per annum.

The fish yield from the lake during post-restoration phase (2001-02 to 2009-10) has been maintained, by and large, at the MSY level assessed by CIFRI i.e. around? 11,676. It was 2.64 per cent above the MSY assessed by CIFRI.

The prawn yield during post-restoration phase has registered spectacular improvement ranging between 2348 MT and 5001 MT (3576 MT on an average), CDA sources said.

The average landing during these nine years has been almost 20 fold more in comparison to the annual yield recorded in 1999-2000 ( pre-restoration).

The average mud crabs landing during the post restoration period showed significant increase from a mere 09 MT during 1999-2000 (pre-restoration)to 161 MT, which is nearly 17 fold increase.

Six economic species of fish namely, Ilishi (Tenualosa ilisha), Nahama (Elops machnata, Paniakhia (Megalops cyprinoides), Kalakhuranta (Acanthopagrus berda), Kekenda (Rhynomugil corsula) and Sebakhainga (Chanos chanos) which were thought to have been extinct from the Lake? prior to restoration of the Lake.

They gradually reappeared during post-restoration period. Most importantly many of them have graduated to the commercial scale after their reappearance.

Hilsha fishery showed immediate recovery after new mouth was opened followed by the extension of the Magarmukh channel towards the River outfall points. This facilitated the?anadromous migration of this species. The average annual landing of Hilsha improved from meager 7 MT prior to opening of the mouth to 153 MT per annum during last nine years ( post restoration phase) which is nearly 22 fold increase.?

Similarly, Paniakhia (Megalops cyprinoides) has shown 91 per cent increase after opening of the mouth.

The fish production of Chilika can be significantly improved if the destructive fishery and the shrimp farming are stopped.