Scattered across the brackish water system, each of these enclosures stretch a few hectares along the lake bed. Inside, fish mill about as the submerged bundles of foliage sway to the tidal waves of the Vembanad.
Buoyed by its success in reinvigorating the fishery wealth of the water body, the Fisheries department has kickstarted a government-people collaborative to restore the 12 underwater nurseries in the lake system. The project is being implemented with the respective local bodies and the various in-land fishermen cooperative societies.
According to officials with the Fisheries Department, a couple of fish sanctuaries—one each at Malikkayal in Aymanam and Thalayazhom in Vechur—have been restored as part of the programme.
“Established in 2019, these sanctuaries are now being reinforced with fencing of bamboo poles and tree foliage so that they continue to serve as the breeding areas till 2024. Of the total 12 sanctuaries to be restored, six are for the indigenous fish varieties of Vembanad while the rest are for black clams—which accounts for bulk of the fishery resource in the system,” said Benny Williams, Deputy Director of Fisheries, Kottayam.
Besides restoring the sanctuaries, the projects also envisage laying of clam seeds within the sanctuaries. To ensure protection of the sanctuaries, squads will be deployed to patrol the locality to check illegal and predatory fishing practices in its vicinity.
The brackish water system, a hot-spot of bio-diversity, has been under severe stress due to anthropocentric activities. Surveys over the years showed that the fishery resources in the water body, which supports thousands of families, were fast depleting.
The fish stock in the water body, however, has recorded a perceptible rise with the improving quality of water post the mega-floods of 2018, said K.G. Padmakumar, director, International Research and Training Centre for Below Sea Level Farming in Kuttanad.
“The annual fish production on the Southern side of the Thanneermukkam barrage has risen to around 750 tonnes and nearly half of this stock comprises of the pearl spot fish,” he said.
Holding that creation of ‘engineered sanctuaries’ within the lake without officially designating them as protected areas would prove to be a futile exercise, Mr. Padmakumar also questioned the presence of clam nurseries on the southern side of the barrage.
“The clam larvae are free-floating and settle down in areas with high salinity levels. Water on the southern side of the barrage, on the other hand, are extremely acidic and hence has no calcium content for the larvae to grow,” the senior scientist added.