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  • ‘Genebank can save South Asian fish stocks’

[ISLAMABAD/KARACHI] As South Asian fish stocks rapidly dwindle through overfishing, experts have suggested the setting up of a regional genebank as a remedy.

Other suggestions that came up at a regional consultative workshop on management and dissemination of improved fish breeds to preserve their diversity in South Asia, held in Islamabad last month (March), were the sharing of databases  and technologies.

The workshop, held at the National Agricultural Research Centre, Islamabad, also mooted academic exchanges and training programmes for the region’s scientists.

"South Asian countries must preserve precious fish-stocks through productive research and gene-development as it is imperative to feed rapidly growing populations," Pakistan Agricultural Research Council chairman Iftikhar Ahmad said.

Regional experts are already focusing on fish breeds that can tolerate and adapt to changing environment conditions and are disease-resistant.

Kanta Das Mahapatra, principal scientist at Central Institute of Freshwater Aquaculture, Bhubaneswar, India, told SciDev.Net that declining surface water resources and rising pollution were major threats to fisheries and aquaculture in South Asia.

Mahapatra said that a regional genebank could help preserve high-quality fish breeds and aid integrated research programmes for improved pure-line fish breeds.

Muhammad Ghulam Hussain, consultant at the World Fish Centre, Dhaka, told the workshop that his centre could provide financial and technical aid to enhance aquaculture in the region.

Early results of an ongoing five-year survey conducted along Pakistan's coast, released in November 2011, reported a decline in commercial fish such as grouper, croaker, catfish and ribbonfish through overfishing.

The survey by Pakistan's Marine Fisheries Department (MFD), Karachi, National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Karachi, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Rome, and the Institute of Marine Research, Bergen, Norway, will conclude in 2013. 

Use of illegal meshes that trap 'juvenile' fish, catching shrimps that serve as feed for fish, resulting in the loss of both shrimps and fish are among reasons for the decline in stocks, according to the survey. 

Paul Fanning, FAO consultant at MFD and lead author of the report, told SciDev.Net that "education of fishermen, better practices and participatory management were important."

Measures to stem the depleting fish stocks, suggested by MFD's director-general Moazzam Khan, included controlling fishing fleet sizes, preventing catches of young fish and enforcing offseason bans on fishing.

"There is no national or provincial fishing policy in Pakistan, (and) so big investors are catching fish using huge trawlers," said Sami Memon, spokesman for the Pakistan Fishermen Folk Forum, an artisanal fishers’ movement.