Booming fisheries business turning wetlands into death traps for birds —

The Haryana government’s attempt to boost fisheries sector in this Indian state is taking toll on migratory birds visiting freshwater bodies and wetlands in some parts of National Capital Region (NCR). Environmentalists claim nearly 100 birds have died in the wetlands of Rohtak and Jhajjar districts in the last two months after getting entangled in nylon nets installed by fisheries contractors to prevent the birds from preying on fish being cultivated in these aqua farms.

Sources in the forest department confirmed that around 100 birds succumbed to injuries after getting caught in these nets, in the last two months.

A Times of India team visited the wetlands in Rohtak and Jhajjar and found that nets have been strung over three wetlands in Dighal, which is home to several avian species. Fisheries contractors have hired guards who sometimes even use explosives to scare birds away.

Rakesh Ahlawat, a resident of Dighal and a local birder, said, “We have rescued many birds, but at least 100 birds have died in two months after getting entangled in these nets. These sharp, nylon nets are not visible to birds. Larger bird species, including painted storks, egrets and cormorants, often get caught in the nets. We have removed many nets, but the fisheries contractors have again erected them. Local villagers don’t seem to bother. When I tried to convince sarpanches (village heads), they said the fisheries projects were bringing money to their villages while birds won’t help them get money,”

Activists pointed out that setting up of fish farms in wetlands is illegal. “Both a Supreme Court verdict and the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010, clearly say nature of wetlands can’t be changed. These fisheries contractors ultimately end up destroying the entire aquatic life. They remove algae and vegetation around wetlands, which leads to destruction of the entire ecosystem of wetlands,” said Dr Gopi Sundar, scientist (cranes and wetlands programme) at the Nature Conservation Foundation.

Asked why there are no curbs on these illegal activities, the forest department said it would take strict action against offenders.

“We have got many nets removed, but the contractors put them back. However, we are inspecting these areas regularly. Also, we have penalised a few offenders for killing birds by hanging nets over ponds and wetlands,” said Manoj Kumar, district forest officer (wildlife).

There are over 130 freshwater bodies, which include ponds, in Rohtak and Jhajjar. Around 50% of them have been covered with nylon nets. In Dighal, three out of 10 ponds have been covered with nets.

Dighal has been identified as an “important bird area” by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), and around 263 bird species, which include both migrant and resident birds, can be found here.

Most water bodies in these districts are spread across 6-10 acres. The birds that flock to these wetlands rely on grass and fish for survival. “Dighal and places around it are home to several bird species because of the presence of big wetlands and several water bodies. Birders from across the country come here to take a glimpse of migratory and resident birds. The rare Horned Grebe was also spotted in Dighal this year. However, the bird didn’t stay here for long. The destruction of wetlands due to fisheries projects could be one of the reasons,” said Pankaj Gupta of Delhi Bird Foundation. (Times of India)

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