Zap fish­ing with gen­er­a­tors: Pak­istani fishermen

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

HAJI ZAI: Ab­bas Khan feeds a hot wire from a rick­ety gen­er­a­tor into a river, a fish­ing tech­nique he ar­gues is more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly than oth­ers used in north­west Pak­istan­though he also ad­mits it has killed sev­eral of his friends. Hun­dreds of fishermen risk their lives daily to hunt the rare fish known as “sher mahi”, found in the Kabul River which flows from the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan into neigh­bor­ing Pak­istan, be­fore merg­ing with the In­dus.

Some swim for hours on in­ner tubes, drag­ging nets be­hind them. Oth­ers use more bru­tal-and il­le­gal-tech­niques: spray­ing pes­ti­cides di­rectly into the river or, like Khan, us­ing the elec­tric cur­rent from gen­er­a­tors to stun the river’s in­hab­i­tants into sub­mis­sion. And, for those in a hurry, there is al­ways the bru­tal but ef­fec­tive “Khatin bomb”-dy­na­mite.

These im­pre­cise tech­niques are a threat to the river’s pop­u­la­tion, say dis­mayed con­ven­tional fishermen who have made their liv­ing sell­ing sher mahi, con­sid­ered the best for eat­ing in Pak­istan’s north­west. “Fish­ing with dy­na­mite and gen­er­a­tors kills the en­tire pop­u­la­tion,” says Ghani Ur Rehman. Like dozens of his fel­low fishermen, the 58-year-old spends hours each day swim­ming the river on an in­ner tube, drag­ging his net be­hind him, catch­ing only a few ki­los at a time. He has done so for 25 years. “Now, the fish’s pop­u­la­tion has de­creased and the main rea­son is an in­crease in fish hunt­ing,” he says, emp­ty­ing his net on to the shore.

Along the banks of the Kabul River hun­dreds of vis­i­tors can be seen en­joy­ing fam­ily days of boat­ing and wad­ing, topped off with a hearty meal of fresh sher mahi and other river fish at dozens of huts and restau­rants. Sher mahi, with few bones and found in Pak­istan only in the Kabul River, is sim­i­lar to cat­fish, grow­ing to a max­i­mum of 30 cen­time­ters. Some fishermen say its name come from the Per­sian word “sheer”, or “milk”, due to its rich oily taste. Rehman says he makes on av­er­age 600 to 1,000 ru­pees a day-but on days when the fish are plen­ti­ful his in­come can soar to 10,000 ru­pees.

Speak­ing with AFP along the river, Khan ad­mit­ted us­ing a gen­er­a­tor in the wa­ter was “scary”-but said that, de­spite his lack of safety gear, he has learned the cor­rect the tech­nique. “Some of my friends had died be­cause of elec­trofish­ing but now we have learnt it, now we know how to hunt in the best way,” he ex­plained, be­fore demon­strat­ing how to at­tach wires to a metal rod then place the rod in a net in the wa­ter. “It stuns the fish and brings it to sur­face. Then we col­lect the fish and put it a cooler,” Khan said. “Some peo­ple use pes­ti­cides for fish­ing but that de­stroys the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of fish. It also poi­sons the wa­ter and kills ev­ery­thing in the river, wher­ever it flows,” he ar­gued.

‘Scary’

Rehman and Khan’s anx­i­ety is echoed by other fishermen in Haji Zai, in the sub­urbs of the Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal Pe­shawar. Fish­ing by dy­na­mite was banned by au­thor­i­ties in 1982, but there was not a se­ri­ous de­crease un­til af­ter the launch of a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion in the ad­ja­cent tribal ar­eas in 2009 made the ex­plo­sives slightly-but only slightly-more dif­fi­cult to get ahold of. Fish­ing with gen­er­a­tors and chem­i­cals re­mains com­mon, de­spite also be­ing banned. Khair Gul­known as “Lar­ram”, or “Scor­pion”, an old child­hood nick­name that stuck-is mayor of Haji Zai vil­lage and him­self an avid fishermen.

Au­thor­i­ties, he says, are not se­ri­ous about stop­ping poach­ing. “We have taken ac­tion against such groups but the lo­cal of­fi­cials used to set them free af­ter tak­ing (a bribe) of 400 to 500 ru­pees ($5),” he said. “Use of dy­na­mite, gen­er­a­tor shocks and poi­sonous chem­i­cals is not only a crime but also dan­ger­ous for health and causes dis­ease. We ask the gov­ern­ment to ban it com­pletely,” he adds. But the prob­lems with a ban be­come ob­vi­ous af­ter speak­ing with of­fi­cials.—AFP

A Pak­istani fish­er­man col­lects a fish in a net af­ter us­ing a ‘hot-wire’ to stun the fish with an elec­tric cur­rent in the River Kabul, at Ha­jji Zai vil­lage in Pak­istan’s north­west­ern Charsadda Dis­trict.

A Pak­istani fish­er­man casts a net into the River Kabul, at Ha­jji Zai vil­lage in Pak­istan’s north­west­ern Charsadda Dis­trict.

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