Fish population in Manipur's Kamjong, Ukhrul rivers facing decline

Widespread use of chemical fertilisers and electricity by the younger generations is considered as one of the major reasons for the decline in fish population.

ByRicky Angkang

Updated 27 Oct 2023, 10:40 am

Rangazak river in north of Ukhrul district (PHOTO: IFP)
Rangazak river in north of Ukhrul district (PHOTO: IFP)


In a concerning development for environmentalists and the fish consuming communities of the Northeast states of India, the fish population in Manipur's Ukhrul and Kamjong districts show a downward trend with rivers and streams slowly drying up, prompting fishes to migrate to suitable habitats.

This widespread use of chemicals and electrocution has further exacerbated the situation by causing massive decline of aquatic species in the region.

The Rangazak Kong (Rangazak river) is one of the major rivers in Ukhrul and home to scores of fish. The Shirui hill range is the main source of water for this river. The river after flowing down to Phungcham, Peh and Chingjaroi village is joined by several tributaries and rivulets before converging at Tusom-Chalou river at the remote north of Ukhrul district.

Ngamu, Akre (Snakehead fish), Akhuipor, Zanu, Akhui Tachar, Asa, Pukrikhui, Angka, Zareyou, Ranapui, Khapayue, Ada Mareu, Arankhui, Sheshewpui, and Zhanloi, etc, are some of the most common indigenous fishes found in this river belt.

Most of these fishes have hugely declined in numbers due to excessive use of chemicals and electrocution in recent fishing practices.

In certain geographical areas like Chingjaroi in Ukhrul district and three Bhaiphung villages, Laii village and Chammei khunou and khullen under Senapati district where the use of chemicals and electricity has been strictly banned with a fine of Rs 20,000 to any individual or group that does not comply with the order, the fish population has shown an upward trend.

The movement against the use of chemicals and electricity to catch fish was spearheaded by the villagers of Chingjaroi.  Similarly, three Chingjaroi villages, Peh, Namrei, Marem, Marangphung and Awangkasom have also strictly prohibited the use of chemicals and electricity and dynamite, and imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 for failure to comply with the directive.

One Amah T Shimray, 70, a native of the northern area of Ukhrul, whose second occupation after agriculture is fishing, narrated that they used to catch large quantities of different species of fish in the Rangazak river.

 “We did not use any chemical fertilizers and batteries in our times. We simply used fishing nets and hooks, and no fishermen went home empty handed. Fishes were abundant. Sadly, it has become a thing of the past,” he said.

Ada Mareu, a local fish that weighs around 10 to 20 kg was still found in the 1940 to 1985. It usually stays in deep seas with strong water current and good caves. By late 1990s, it slowly disappeared from Rangazak river especially near Chingjaroi and Laii river ranges.

“From my fishing experience, the destruction of its habitat by climatic conditions and shrinking of river water current was one of the main reasons for its disappearance,” he said.

Snakehead fish is another striking fish found in this river course. “Using hooks, we used to catch the big sized ones. It is still found in large numbers but the huge ones are hard to find now, he stated.

Widespread use of chemical fertilisers and electricity by the younger generations is considered as one of the major reasons for the decline in fish population. No fish can withstand the shock or current from the electrocution. The aftershock from using electricity further led to destruction of several aquatic species and has led to its decline.

Asserting that Rangazak river has been a source of water for irrigation and other agriculture purposes, Amah lamented that man-made activities have polluted the river and threatened the aquatic species with people unmindfully disposing wastes without any remorse. The use of chemicals is another worrisome factor that needs to be fixed to avoid further damage, he said.

To sustain fish and other aquatic species, community participation at grassroot level is needed, he added.

Commenting specifically on the reason for decline in fish species in Ukhrul and Kamjong districts of Manipur, Shang Pungdon, a scientist at Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), said that Anthropogenic threats and environmental changes are alarming to the fish population.

Over-exploitation, habitat destruction, invasive species, water pollution, flow modification by constructing dams and barrages and climate change have led to an increase in temperature. This has led to the decline in the fish population, he asserted.

It is worth mentioning that following reports of rampant use of battery and dynamo in the rivers for quick catch, the Raphei Katamnao Saklong has imposed a blanket ban on the use of chemical fertilizers, battery and dynamo in the northern areas of the district. The students' body has also warned of heavy penalties for anyone who does not comply with its standing order.

The move was aimed at preserving the aquatic species in the region.

Sorinthan Haorei, a local of Chatric village, which is very popular in the state for its large scale fish and ‘U morok’ (King chili) production, said that fish population in Chatric rivers have decline in recent years due to climatic factors, landslide, rampant use of chemical fertilizers and electricity by the non-locals.

Chatric river originates from Jammu-khayang area in Ukhrul district and converges at Chindwin river in Myanmar.

Landslides along the river range have blocked good numbers of caves where fishes stay and this has resulted in fishes shifting to places that have good caves for them to stay,” he mentioned.

 “Our area is so vast that it is difficult for the locals to check the use of chemical fertilizers and electricity by outsiders even though the locals have kept in place strong measures for people who use such harmful practices in our rivers,” he mentioned.

Chihanmi Horam, a resident of Tusom village, said that Tusom river is home to varieties of fish species including ‘kharangsei’, ‘mitra’, ‘mipre-thai’, ‘kamei-khi’, ‘nga-ki-jao’, ‘common cup’, ‘hui-kei’, ‘mi-zu’, ‘korailei, khon-khon’ (prawn), ‘khon-khi’ (crab), ‘khi-mang’, ‘karan’, ‘marui’, ‘yein-mi’, etc.

Regrettably, the extensive use of chemicals and dynamo has drastically reduced these fish species. In the past, fishermen used to catch basketfuls of fishes. In those days, locals used simple fishing nets.

The river which once abounds in fish is now facing a severe crunch due to the above activities. In a river range where people have illegally used chemicals and dynamo, fishes in such spots were either killed or completely destroyed, and no matter how hard ones try to catch it is impossible to catch even a single fish. Thus the harmful impact of such practices on fish families.

Tusom river which finally flows down to Chindwin river in Myanmar is still known for ‘Khi-tha’ fish which weights around a half kilo to 2 kilo. This seasonal fish migrates upstream from seas and is normally found from June to September.

Red fish (locally known as khihoe) is another variety of fish which swim towards Tusom river. A piece of red fish weighs around 15 to 17 plus kilos. But their population has become limited.

The use of chemicals and electricity is verbally banned in the village but practically there is no implementation. “Strong measures must be implemented so that the aquatic species are not further threatened,” he maintained.

According to official sources, the annual requirement of table fish for Manipur is 56,000 MT but the state produces only 36,000 MT. As a result, the state spends more than Rs 300 crore on fish imports annually.

Scientists at Manipur University and Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) blame changes in the hydrology due to the construction of dams, blockage of migratory routes, drying up of wetlands from siltation, eutrophication and water quality deterioration, and over exploitation for declining indigenous fish diversity in the lake.

R Aphao, 68, an experienced fisherman from Chingjaroi, said that fishes have declined severely in several rivers. Fishes are still available in the rivers but question remains as to where they had vanished in the last decades so suddenly. He also cited reduction in water current and unmindful use of chemicals and dynamo as the main factors for its decline in the region. In addition, growing population and climatic changes is also the reason for its decline.

“In our days, I could easily catch 5 kilos of fish and from their sale at least I could earn Rs 500. Growing up, I woke up before dawn and went fishing with my father. Those were the best days. We returned home happily carrying tons of fish for consumption as well as for sale.”

“I enjoyed fishing and I still go fishing in my spare time. But now even if I fished the whole day I could hardly get half kilo. Times have changed indeed,” he said.



First published:


manipurUkhrulKamjongfish population in ukhrulRangazak riverfish consumers

Ricky Angkang

Ricky Angkang

IFP Correspondent, Ukhrul, Manipur


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