The Punjab government has imposed a ban on farming of the African sharptooth catfish, locally known as the exotic Magur or Mangur, which eats indigenous fish and even small birds and animals. This comes a month after a raid found and destroyed 12kg of the fish at Gorla village in Sangrur district.
According to Gulzar Singh Ranike, animal husbandry, dairy development and fisheries minister, this specific breed of fish (clarias gariepinus) “causes harmful effect on the environment and poses danger to the Indian breeds”.
A special committee has been constituted to ensure the compliance of direction. Instructions were also issued to the departments concerned to conduct surprise checks.
The fish is banned at several places in India and abroad. Yet, it remains popular among fish-breeders and meat-sellers as it grows fast, can tolerate adverse water-quality conditions and be raised in dense numbers. This 3-to-5-ft-long, air-breathing fish is also able to crawl on dry ground and can survive in mud between rains. Factors such as an omnivorous diet, ability to survive on land, burrowing capabilities and ability to hide in vegetation make this species very difficult to control. A study in Mumbai earlier this year had listed the African catfish as one of the reasons behind a 70% decline in native fish species in Powai Lake there over the past two decades.
A report in the newspaper Mint some years ago said it wasn’t clear how the African Mangur entered India. A 2006 paper in the Journal of Ecophysiology and Occupational Health says it entered some reservoirs and rivers such as Ganga, Yamuna, Sutlej and Godavari.
The “alien” fish’s ability to crowd out local fish species reduces the food base for water birds; and some of the African catfish grow large enough to prey on birds themselves. “The introduction of African catfish has brought about significant loss to indigenous fish biodiversity. In Bangladesh it has been reported to deplete 56 fish species,” the 2006 paper adds.