India’s northeastern states have very unique natural and geographical features ranging from the high altitude terrain of the eastern Himalayas to the Brahmaputra flood plains and rain forests to vast wetlands.
Among many other exotic flora and fauna, the region has a rich diversity of ornamental fish found in fresh water. There are about 267 different species of ornamental fish that are found in Northeast India (Goswami, 2015).
Among the northeastern states, Assam has the largest number of ornamental fish species (217) followed by Arunachal Pradesh (167), Meghalaya (165), Tripura (134), Manipur (121), Nagaland (68), Mizoram (48) and Sikkim (29). Among them about 31 species of ornamental fishes found are endemic to the region.
Ornamental fishes live in different water bodies in different ecosystem from cold water to warm water in India’s Northeast region. Pond, paddy field, channel, wetland, rivers are main habitat of native ornamental fishes in this region. Lakhimpur district, on the foothills of eastern Himalaya of Arunachal Pradesh in Assam’s northeastern corner, has been an ideal habitat for many ornamental fishes found in nature.
The district, which is situated on the north bank of the Brahmaputra, has three big rivers —Subansiri, Ranganadi and Dikrong. A large number of tributaries from these major rivers flow through the district. Lakhimpur district also has 40% its area as flood plain and is covered by seasonal and perennial wetland.
All the rivers, tributaries and wetlands are very rich in indigenous fish diversity in the district. The presence of mild ecological condition allows the habitation of abundance of ornamental fishes in nature and it has 35 different species of ornamental fishes found in diverse natural water bodies. But due to natural calamity and manmade disasters degradations are experienced in various water bodies, mostly the wetlands and riverine swamps called ‘beels’ and their ecosystems.
Bikul Goswami, a nature conservationist and fish breeder from North Lakhimpur in Assam’s Lakhimpur district, has been studying and documenting the ornamental fish species in this region for the last three decades.
So far, he has listed Oreichthy, Golden Barb, Puntius, Rosy Barb, Giant Danio, Danio Dangila, Danio Aequipinnatus, Honey Gourami, Dwarf Gourami, Zebra Danio, Esomus Danricus, Badis Badis, Badis Assamensis, Botia Histrionica, Algae Eater, Lepidocephalus Thermalis, Sisor Rhabdophorus, Channa Barca, Channa Aurentimaculata, Tyretrack Eel, Spotted Eel, Tor Putitora, Tor Tor, Hara Jerdni, Silurus Berdmorei, Oreichthys Cosuatis, Puntius Conchonius, Puntius Ticto, Danio Aequipinnatus, Danio Dangila, Esomus Danricus, Lepidocephalus Thermalis, Bagarius Bagarius, Olyra Longicaudata, Colisa Fasciata, Channa Aurentimaculata, Glyptothorax Sp, Akysis Sp., Pseudolaguvia Shawi, Oreichthys Cosuatis, Puntius Conchonius and many more exotic species of native ornamental fishes in Lakhimpur district.
Goswami, who also runs an aquatic farm in Seajuli under Kadam Revenue Circle of Lakhimpur district, is worried about the threat faced by these species in recent times.
According to Goswami, the major threat faced by the native ornamental fishes in this region is from natural calamity like earthquake. The eastern Himalaya region is a red seismic zone in Asia which saw a devastating earthquake in 1950. Any more such calamity could greatly upset the natural eco-system of the ornamental fishes in this region, he feels. Human interference in nature and wanton destruction of natural ecosystems like using nylon net for fishing, poisoning of water bodies, blasting and deforestation have been frequently done in all major natural water bodies of the district stretching from the hills of Arunachal Pradesh to the banks of the Brahmaputra.
The uncontrolled use of pesticides and inorganic fertilizer in agriculture fields of the district has also caused great harms to the ornamental fishes among all other things. The coming out of mega hydropower dams on rivers in Arunachal Pradesh is another worry as observed by Bikul Goswami for the existence of the ornamental fishes in this region.
In a bid to preserve and promote the native ornamental fishes Bikul Goswami has been relentlessly working for captive breeding of the exotic species in the last three decades. For that he has been for the promotion of indigenous medicinal herbs for the management of ornamental fish diseases. He has also been consistent in immune-modulation; quarantine the fishes, observing the behaviour of the fishes in captivity, artificial feeds, maintaining the proper coloration of fishes in captivity in his aquatic facility.
Conserving the native ornamental fishes through captive breeding has the great potentiality of creating a global market for the species, says Goswami. In India the northeastern states are taking a leading role in the native ornamental fish market .The region contributes about 85% of the total global market of Ornamental fish (Goswami). According to ICAR, the northeastern region has tremendous potential for ornamental fish production. The region can claim patenting right over the species and simultaneously make conservation effort. It can also contribute the lion’s share of total native ornamental fishes in Northeast to the international market.
So far, the market of ornamental fish to the global demand has been largely unorganized and lacks any agency for its promotion. Lack of proper packaging and transportation is also another challenge to this potential trade. The trading of ornamental fishes in this region is mainly based on natural collection. The fishes are collected form the wild habitat and marketed by traders who actually control the activities. It has been observed that collection of ornamental fishes takes place in large number during the pick season. The indiscriminate exploration of ornamental fishes from natural sources may lead to extinction of some of the rare varieties of them. Further, there is an inherent danger of certain species disappearing from the region. If the present mode of exploration continues unabated, it is high time to take immediate measures to conserve this natural wealth.
(Sazzad Hussain is a freelance writer and independent researcher based in North Lakhimpur, Assam)