climate change

Overfishing, pollution and climate change have put Kabul river’s Sher Mahi fish in trouble

The increased price of the fish due to low supply is further causing overfishing.

The Sher Mahi, an indigenous fish of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is facing serious threats to survival due to climatic changes, water pollution and overfishing. The scientific name of the fish is “Clupisoma Naziri” and it is found in river basins adjacent to Afghanistan. Fish lovers proudly compare it with trout, because both the species have spine horns and such small scales that they do not have to be removed to cook the fish.

But this fish may be in trouble. Experts in the fisheries department of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, zoologists and those in the fish business have observed a decrease in the population of Sher Mahi in its main habitat, the Kabul river.

They believe extreme weather events – especially severe floods and erratic rainfall – combined with water contamination and over-fishing are the main cause of the depletion. The construction of the Warsak dam in 1960, also added problems. The dam blocked the migratory route of the fish, which winds from Kunar-Kabul-Jalalabad in Afghanistan to Torkhem-Peshawar to Charsadda-Mardan and to some areas of Indus river at Nizampur (Nowshera district) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and finally to Kalabagh in Punjab.

This problem takes on an added urgency because the fish cannot be reared in water ponds, or fish farms, due to its highly sensitive nature. Experiments of rearing the Sher Mahi in hatcheries have so far resulted in failure.

“For the last few years we are observing a considerable decrease in catch of local fishermen,” said Musafar Khan, the owner of a fish hut located on the bank of the Kabul river at Haji Zai village in Charsadda district.

Two fishermen along with their gadgets including inflated plastic tube and net waiting for public transport on the outskirts of Peshawar to travel to Michni and fish for Sher Mahi. Photo Credit: Adeel saeed
Two fishermen along with their gadgets including inflated plastic tube and net waiting for public transport on the outskirts of Peshawar to travel to Michni and fish for Sher Mahi. Photo Credit: Adeel saeed

Gul Rahim, a fisherman from the KP’s Peshawar district, claimed that 10 years ago he used to catch 15 to 20 kilogrammes of the fish on a daily basis. This provided him with a steady income. Now he catches at most 1.5 kg of fish.

The decrease in the fish population has been matched by a steep rise in its price. Three years ago a kilogramme of the fish cost approximately Pakistan Rupees 400-500 ($3-4). Now it costs Pakistani Rupees 1,100 ($9.5) per kg, depriving poorer inhabitants of the fish.

“An alarming decrease in population of Sher Mahi has been observed during the last few years, raising concerns about its survival,” said Muhammad Diyar Khan, the director of the fisheries department of Khyber Pakhtunkwa.

“There is no departmental survey conducted so far to evaluate the loss, but based on the reports obtained from fishermen and locals dwelling on the embankment of the Kabul river, it is assumed that around 50% of the Sher Mahi population has disappeared,” he added.

Diyar disagreed with the idea that new methods of fishing – such as through electrocution or the use of dynamite – were a major factor behind the depletion of the Sher Mahi. These methods are used for fishing in stagnant water while the Sher Mahi is found only in fresh running water.

However, the high price of the fish is leading to more people trying to catch the fish, creating more pressure on the Sher Mahi. In a negative cycle, the high price created by its low availability, is creating a greater incentive for over-fishing.

Fish in hot water

There are, though, wider causes. “The rise in temperature of the Kabul river due to global warming has reduced oxygen dissolution in water which has affected the Sher Mahi,” claimed Maqsood Ahmad Siddique, who, before his retirement, served as the assistant director of the fisheries department of Khyber Pakhtunkwa.

The increase in the temperature of water and the direct disposal of waste – both human and industrial – alters the pH level – how acidic the river water is.

“Clupisoma Naziri is a sensitive fish and requires more than normal the ratio of oxygen in water for survival,” observed Zaigham Hasan, an assistant professor at the Zoology Department of the University of Peshawar. Sher Mahi fish is so delicate that it dies as soon as it is caught in the net. “If the normal ratio of oxygen in water is five parts per million, the Sher Mahi requires 6 ppm,” Zaigham said. Similarly for breeding and egg laying, the fish requires oxygenated water which is not available thus affecting reproduction of the species. Since the fish feeds mainly on insects, water pollution has led to a shortage of its food.

The Subhan Kawar, so pulloted by crushed particles of marble that it has turned white, carries its pollution into the Kabul river. Photo Credit: Adeel Saeed
The Subhan Kawar, so pulloted by crushed particles of marble that it has turned white, carries its pollution into the Kabul river. Photo Credit: Adeel Saeed

Zaigham also blamed water contamination due to disposal of waste by the hundreds of marble industries located on the banks of the river Kabul at Shabqadar area in Charsadda district. The nearby Mohmand Agency is rich in marble deposits so there are hundreds of marble crushing units directly disposing waste into Kabul river.

“There are around 150 marble units in Subhan Khawar, Michni and Yakaghund area and the majority of them are complying with environmental laws,” claimed Himat Shah, the general secretary of the All Marble and Chips Industries on Warsak road in Peshawar.

Talking to thethirdpole.net, Himat Shah said there are hundreds of marble industries in Khyber Pakhtunkwa and owners are cooperating with the Environment Protection Agency. The director general of the Environmental Protection Agency Khyber Pakhtunkwa, Muhammad Bashir, said that the EPA ensures that industries comply with environmental laws. When his attention was diverted towards the flow of contaminated water from the Subhan Khawar into the Kabul river, he said there are a large number of marble industries located in tribal areas which are out of the jurisdiction of the EPA.

Polluted water (white in colour) of the Subhan Khawar converges into Kabul river at Shabqadar Tehsil of Charsadda district. Photo Credit: Adeel Saeed
Polluted water (white in colour) of the Subhan Khawar converges into Kabul river at Shabqadar Tehsil of Charsadda district. Photo Credit: Adeel Saeed

The stone crushing and other industries have a bad record in Khyber Pakhtunkwa.

The deputy director (technical) of the EPA, Muhammad Hanif, disclosed that out of the 90 marble units in Subhan Khawar only four have set up septic tanks. Hanif said the EPA is aware of the issue and after a hearing process, owners of the marble units will be issued with Environmental Protection Orders to install septic tanks.

Meanwhile, caught between a warming climate, a growing population, and the destruction of its habitat, the Sher Mahi continues to dwindle away.

This article first appeared on The Third Pole.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.