Killing Kotri and palla catch, Sindh’s fishermen worry about water downstream

There are 147 fish species found in the River Indus out of which 22 are found nowhere else in the world.

Kotri downstream water is deemed a waste and excessive, even though an important sub-sector of the economy, fishing, is dependent on it. This includes coastal and inland fishing. Traditionally the most popular palla fish is found in Kotri downstream.
Sindh was cited as the main trading point for fish, during the eras of the Mughal, Kalhora and Talpur rulers. Fish was traded to Muscat, Gujrat and China during the British Raj. It was also used to produce oil that was consumed as fuel domestically. An English tourist, Hamilton, claimed that he has never tasted a fish like the palla during his visits in 1699. Abul Fazl Ibn Mubarak who was a vizier of Jallaluddin Akbar, lauded palla by calling it a matchless fish, in his book in 1872.

The water flow in Kotri downstream was ample for catch. Consistent drought-like conditions in the Indus River for the last decade before the flood of 2010 adversely affected the production of palla and the income of fishermen; consequently most of them depend on NGOs and government income support programs.

The shortage has wreaked havoc in riverine life by affecting fish fauna and mangroves. The Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum reported a reduction in the annual fisheries production from 5,000 metric tons in 1951 to just 295 by 2011.

The river water is considered important not only for agriculture but it is also the livelihood of fishermen who do not have any other ways to make a living.
There are 34 mians (landing centers for fishing) and below Kotri Downstream, which cater to 21,550 of the population on both sides in the lower Sindh course, including the banks of four districts; Jamshoro, Hyderabad, Tando Muhammad Khan and Thatta.

The breeding season for palla is from July to mid-September when it travels upwards and is caught, because it strikes the closed gates of the barrage and turns back. As long as palla travels in the river it is tasty. An accurate figure of fish production and income is difficult to obtain as fishermen avoid applying for licenses from the directorate of fisheries inland even though the charges are Rs.500 per boat and Rs.100 per fisherman.

Fishermen stated that the production of fish is directly proportionate to the flow of water in the river except in high floods that restrict fishing. The fishing season is June to August otherwise they are free. In peak season fishermen drag fishing nets for one hour and catch 70 to 80 fish. This goes down to less than 50 fish over a 24-hour period. However the real figure of production could not be obtained due to an absence of record-keeping. From 1999 to 2009 there was a recession when catch declined 80 percent and the cost of fishing increased.

The water shortage downstream Kotri is affecting delta fishing as well. Indus delta fishing contributes 70 percent of total coastal fishing. About 80 percent of the fish caught in coastal area spend much of their life in the mangroves. Shrimp are a major export of mangroves, which accounts for 68 percent of the $100 million of the foreign exchange the country earns from fisheries.

Fishermen are scared by the predicted absence of water in Kotri downstream due to climate change or dam projects on upper Indus.

Tayyaba Makhdoom is a lecturer at the University of Sindh Badin Campus
This article is extracted from her research published in The Government journal of the University of Sindh (Dec. 2016)

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