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KARACHI, July 1: Strict implementation of laws on illegal nets, timely release of water to lower Sindh, putting a ban on fishing palla in its spawning season and declaring a two-kilometre area downstream Indus river as sanctuary are some measures suggested in a study to help save palla.

The study titled ‘Assess the status of Tenualosa ilisha (palla) and the causes responsible for its decline in its natural habitat’ was conducted by the directorate fisheries, inland, Hyderabad, with the support of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) under its recently concluded Indus for All Programme.

The data was collected from 2008 to 2010 from different areas in Thatta district.

The objectives of the study were to identify hotspots where this species either breeds or takes refuge and its nursery areas so as to provide relief to the species, explore the conservation awareness needs of the dependent populations and recommend alternative livelihood options for dependant communities and measures for species conservation to the government.

Under the project, surveys of different landing centres were conducted along with biological studies in order to know the present status of the fish in the Indus.

Tenualosa ilisha (palla), the study says, is an anadromous fish occurring in the Indo-West Pacific region from the Persian Gulf, along the coast of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar to South Vietnam. It occurs in the foreshore areas, estuaries, brackish water lakes and freshwater rivers. It ascends the rivers for breeding during the monsoon season and returns to the sea after completion of spawning to marine habitats.

“It’s an important tropical fish belonging to the family Clupeidae. The variations in the intensity of monsoon during the breeding season appear to cause considerable fluctuations in the abundance of the fish and catches in different places,” it says.

In Pakistan, the study says, the species was earlier available up to Multan more than a century ago covering a distance of up to 600 river miles. In 1932, the Lloyd barrage was constructed at Sukkur and its run was confined to 478 river miles from the sea. In 1956, the Kotri barrage was constructed at Jamshoro, near Hyderabad, about 182 river miles from the river mouth.

These developments, the study says, generated serious concern for palla fishing. “The fishing intensity in the river Indus mainly depends on the main river flow. During the winter months (October to March), the river flow becomes very low and sluggish. The ascent of palla from the deltaic region is usually delayed till there is enough water in the river to induce shoals of palla by the middle of May. The sluggishness of the river flow is due to the low discharge of water in the barrages of the river Indus,” it says.

There is no published information that could tell whether there are different species of tenualosa ilisha in Pakistani waters or whether the same fish breeds twice in different seasons.

Referring to the market survey done during the project, the study said that the fish-sellers of Thatta said the catch of palla had decreased significantly over the past two decades and the total number of catch supplied to the market in October 2008 had been below 100 per day. Most of the catch was of small size.

They also informed the research team that three to four different types of palla were found which they called in their local parlance as kairo, tit, tady and gowadari palla.

According to the study, the reasons for its fast depletion were water scarcity problem downstream, over-fishing, drought conditions from 1997 to 2004, pollution of the Indus, use of prohibited nets and catching of undersized palla.

“It is feared that due to the shortage of water in the Indus the palla has changed its migration route,” it said.

Giving suggestions, the study stated that there must be a ban on palla fishing during the peak months of spawning season (August-September). The fisheries department should take the initiative to implement the outcome of the present study, which would enable the palla to survive and propagate in natural environment, it said.

The study urged upon government officials to make necessary arrangements to provide alternative livelihood to fishermen during the ban period, which, it said, should be observed strictly, or the officials took steps to shift the live palla (at least 10 pairs) to upstream for its propagation.

“The study was a success as it identified breeding grounds and nurseries for Palla at Ghorabari and Kharonchann. A study tour to Bangladesh was also organised with the aim to learn artificial propagation of palla, its management and conservation,” director fisheries, inland (Hyderabad) Ghulam Mujtaba Wadahar said, adding that the same training had been recommended to the government for fishermen here.