Saving the Ceniputhi- A success story
A fish seed farm battles the odds to save a species intrinsically linked to Assamese folklore
An endangered fish is swimming out of troubled waters in Assam. At a time when some species of indigenous fresh water fishes of the State are rapidly disappearing, a local Olive Barb, known as Ceniputhi in Assamese, is getting a kiss of life, thanks to a successful artificial breeding operation.
A team of Guwahati-based Ulubari Fish Seed Farm, led by Dr Pratul Barman, is behind this success story of the State Fishery Department. All it took was a set of breeders, a female and two males of the species, which produced about 50,000 spawns. The spawns were released in nursery ponds of the farm. In two months, they developed into fingerlings without any causality. Dr Barman says ovatide hormone was injected for induced breeding.
Dr Barman is ecstatic over the results of this artificial breeding project of a very rare, indigenous fish. Particularly since initial attempts at breeding had failed. Barman gives credit to his team's unrelenting pursuit to revive a species that was once found in abundance in the natural water areas of the State. “In Assam, sighting the Ceniputhi is now rare. The status of this fish species is vulnerable in India,” says Barman.
As recently as 2012, the National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources sent out warning signals on this fish species. There are 267 fish species found in Northeast. Of them six species are critically endangered, 31 species are endangered and 46 are vulnerable.
Interestingly, the Guwahati farm is spreading its joy. Some 5000-odd fingerlings have been given to the Billeshawar Temple in Nalbari for conservation. Two progressive farmers in Nalbari, including the Jongal Balalugarh Fish Farm in Roha, have been given fingerlings free to step up population of the fish.
Debajit Barman is one of the farmers who got the fingerlings. He says an acute lack of awareness is the reason for the dwindling numbers of the fish. Debajit is ambitious. His aim is to breed two crore spawns of Ceniputhi at his farm. “Once the cultured fishes attain maturity, I will start breeding in four batches,” he says.
He highlights that the Ceniputhi is linked to Assam's folklore -- all the more reason to protect it from extinction. “It's sad”, he says, “that people only think of consumption and not conservation.” Barman has a point here. The Ceniputhi is also a great sport fish, a favourite of anglers.
According to renowned Fishery Scientist Dr BK Bhattacharya, shrinkage of the wetland area year after year and too much of fishing are the major causes of depletion of local fishes. The State’s population is going up. It is also a state where 95 per cent people eat fish. The demand is only going up. “The migratory habit of fish from the parent river to the wetland for feeding and breeding has been affected by the construction of embankments,” says Bhattacharya. It has led to a Catch-22 situation as embankments are desperately needed so also the need to protect the fish. The other challenge, he adds, is illegal fishing which is reducing the natural stock.
While officials are emphatic on implementing the Assam Fish Seed Act, 2005, in letter and spirit, the future of the Ceniputhi still lies in taking forward the work done at the Fish Seed Farm in Guwahati. Hiteshwar Baruah, Assistant Fishery Officer of the Farm, says the only way to boost depleting population of the fish is to keep breeding them and releasing them into the wetland.
Photo and Text- Kishore Talukdar
(Kishore Talukdar is an independent journalist based in Guwahati. His areas of interest include Development journalism and Environment journalism. He can be contacted at email@example.com )