Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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Iril River near its source village Lakhamai in Senapati district. (Inset) Ngaton fish. Photo source Dr. Ch Basudha Devi Principal Scientist ICAR, Imphal

Initiatives for Revival of Nearly Extinct Ngaton Fish in Iril River is the Urgent Need of the Hour

I still remember my childhood days which I enjoyed the taste of Ngaton fish from the Iril river with Changlei rice of Manipur. It seems like yesterday we enjoyed catching Ngaton fish from the river. Those memorable scenes of fishing event will never fade from my mind and memories being lamented by Maibam Ibochou, 82 years from Naharup Awang Leikai in Imphal East district of Manipur. Mr. Ibochou who is a farmer and fish monger narrated that Ngaton fish is also known as Mera Ngaton as it is catched or abundant in the rainy season of Mera (October/November). Particularly during the month of Ningol Chakkouba festival, many fish mongers catch Ngaton fish mainly by males using Nupa Ein (a type of cast net). There was a particular place called as Einkangpham (a place where the ein were placed for fishing) where each members of the locality will engage in rotation-wise manner.

People from different localities were in queue to buy the Ngaton fish of Iril River. Even pre-booking was done. From the narratives of many elderly people, Iril River of Manipur was popular for Ngaton fish. They used a special fishing net which had many pockets which allowed easy entry of the fish and hangers made of iron or lead to make it weight. They used to go for fishing the whole night during Mera season using petromax/half-lantern lamps. Each individual got a chance of 5 to 6 times in one night to be in the fishing place. They used to sell the fish per piece. There were 7 to 8 fish in one kilogram of Ngaton fish.

Iril River is a river that runs through the eastern suburbs of the city of Imphal. It starts from the Lakhmei Hill of Lakhmei Village of Ukhrul District bordering with Senapati District. It is a big river originating from Lakhmei Village with its tributaries forming three channels towards east from Sekta through Kangla and Arong (Lilong). Iril River is one of the biggest and longest rivers of Manipur. The river runs through Saikul, Sagolmang, Taretkhul, Keibi area and flows through Lamlai, Top, Naharup, Pangong and Irilbung before it joins the Imphal River at Lilong. The total length of the Iril River from its head to the point of its confluence with the Imphal River is about 144.5 Kilometer.

The Iril River had a large population of indigenous fish like Ngaton and Meitei Sareng. It is one of the most popular indigenous minor carps in the Northeast India especially in Manipur.  Ngaton (Bangana) is a finger size and short distance migratory indigenous fish of Manipur found in many rivers like Iril River, Litan, Thoubal, Sekmai etc. and its adjoining lakes in Manipur. It is omnivorous feeding on a variety of food item including invertebrates, algae and plant matter. It is known for their schooling behaviour often congregating in group. The maximum length of Ngaton is (35-40) centimeter. When the finger size Ngaton is bigger, it is known as Khabak. Ngaton is considered to be a good source of protein, many essential vitamins and minerals.

Mr Ibochou further narrated that from the last 20 to 30 years, Ngaton fish is not found in the Iril River. Since 1960s and 1970s with the introduction of Indian major carps in the rivers of Manipur, it had replaced the indigenous fishes including Ngaton fish. He also claimed that construction of Ithai barrage is the most contributing factor for the lost of Ngaton fish in the Iril River of Manipur. He still has a firm believe and confidence in himself that Ngaton fish can be revived in the Iril River if the concerned authorities take appropriate steps.

Another senior villager who resides at the bank of Iril River, Maibam Kadambini expressed that many indigenous fishes like Ngaton, Sareng, Ngahou, Khabak, Ngahei, Ngarel, Ngakijou, Ngasep, Sarengkhoibi, Ngamhai, Khajing, Ngaril etc. were abundantly available in Iril River in earlier days. Among them, the most special and in huge demand are Ngaton and Sareng of Iril River. She also expressed that Ngaton of Iril River is tastier than other Ngaton found in other water bodies. She also expressed that at those earlier days people throng to Iril River basin to buy Ngaton, and it looked like a festival for few days. But those days became a history and not a single Ngaton fish can be caught today. She also lamented with the declining role of river in the life of people of Manipur. Iril River supported many families financially in many ways such as by catching fishes and selling it in the markets. The people of Naharup and others residing at the river bank of Iril River at that time supported their families in the field of education of their children by catching fishes. With the decline in the population of the indigenous fishes and replacement by other Indian carps in the Iril River and with other changes in the river, she cannot believe herself it as Iril River, she regretted.

Talking to IRAP in this regard, Dr Chanamthabam Basudha Devi, Principal Scientist (Fish and Fishery Science), ICAR Research Centre for NEH Region, Manipur Centre, Lamphelpat, Imphal expressed that in the last 20 to 30 years due to climate change, urbanization, pollution, changing pattern of land use, indiscriminate fishing, deforestation, shrinkage of wetland area etc. there has been a tremendous decline in the natural stock of Ngaton fish specially in Iril River. Loss of feeding-ground and disturbance in the life-cycle of the fish naturally results in the decrease of fish population. And moreover, the dominance of invasive fish species over the indigenous fish in many aspects is also one of the most important factors for the decline of indigenous fish in the rivers. The provision of fish ladder or fish passage in Dams will help in supporting the survival of indigenous fishes like Ngaton in rivers ecosystem. As Ngaton is a kind of migratory species, some Ngaton are found in other water bodies of Manipur, she appeals all the concerned to work together to preserve and put efforts to increase the Ngaton population in the natural water bodies.

The capture fishery which was practiced in olden days is no more exists in the state. Almost all the fishes available in the market are from the culture fishing. Only few fishes are from capture fishing. There exists a shift from capture to culture fishing in the State. Ngaton fish can be preserved as ornamental fish also. There is a need to promote capture fishery which will help in reviving many indigenous fish including Ngaton. Once the population of Ngaton revives in the Iril River, the popularity of Iril River for Ngaton fish will resume again. Adpoting a multi-faceted approach which includes habitat restoration, sustainable fisheries management, community engagement, research, and policy advocacy will help in reviving Ngaton populations in the Iril River of Manipur. There are many more Ibochous and Kadambinis who have their dreams of reviving indigenous fishes in the rivers of Manipur.

(The article is filed under the 4th State Level Media Fellowship Programme on Climate Change under the sponsorship of the Directorate of Environment and Climate Change, Government of Manipur.)

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