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Gill nets causing deaths of endangered Gangetic dolphins

Thickly knitted fishing gill nets have caused the death of yet another river dolphin today leaving the state fishery and the forest officials in jeopardy.

KANCHAN SIDDIQUI KATWA | Kolkata |

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Thickly knitted fishing gill nets have caused the death of yet another river dolphin today leaving the state fishery and the forest officials in jeopardy. Gill nets used indiscriminately in the Bhagirathi river by the fishermen communities have been killing the endangered Gangetic Dolphins over the years.

The frequency of deaths has increased desperately in the last three years, claiming lives of at least 14 dolphins within just 45 km of the Bhagirathi river stretch between Katwa in East Burdwan and Nadia. “It was a 12-year-old fully grown female dolphin and its carcass was recovered from the sand beds between Kabirajpur in Nadia and Kalikapur here today,” said Shibaprasad Sinha, Forest Ranger, Katwa.

He said, “In most of the death cases, we’ve observed injury marks in the dolphins that indicate they were either stuck in the fishing nets laid unauthorisedly in the river or were hit by the whirling propellers of the mechanised boats.” The carcass was dispatched to Burdwan Divisional Forest office for inquest this afternoon.

A Dolphin Breeding Centre at Sankhai Ghat was inaugurated by the forest minister three years ago. “Most unfortunately, the fishermen have laid fishing nets in that prohibited zone too,” said Ganesh Chowdhury, a nationally acclaimed Gangetic Dolphin rescuer. He said, “The number of Gangetic Dolphins has reduced from 2,500 in 2004 to 186, spotted in the 270 km stretch between Farakka and Kolaghat this year.

The figure was 1,600 even in 2010.” He blamed the local fishermen community for encouraging the danger by employing thin, locally made Bahula nets intended to catch small fish and illegal gill nets, which ultimately resulted in the killing of dolphins in this area.

The district fishery department meanwhile has kicked off a mass awareness campaign among the fishermen community to prevent the use of nets below 90 cm thickness. Rabi Haldar, secretary of the Kalikapur Fishermen Cooperative said, “We are aware of this but due to the scanty population of fish in the river, most fishermen have chosen this prohibited version for their livelihood.”

The menace has shocked the Assistant Director of Fishery, Dilip Kumar Mondal too. He said, “We are in league with the district administration to prevent the use of thinner nets. But, due to no scope for penal measure against the offenders, the use could not be restrained substantially. We need to protect the river dolphins, we shall discuss the case seriously now.”

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