WHILE it is an indigenous species that is native to our coastal region, not a single barramundi was spotted in Muttukadu estuary this year, says angler sport fishing consultant Prithviraj Manivelu. He adds that the decline in wild barramundi has been nearly 80 per cent in the past four years with the reason being the destruction of backwaters due to untreated sewage disposal and increase in the number of African-origin tilapia fishes that affects barramundi’s breeding ground. “Barramundi is a coastal predator and similar to how the tiger’s population is on decline due to deforestation, barramundi’s population is under threat due to water pollution,” emphasises Kannan Pasupathiraj, an environmentalist. An expensive fish, especially in Kolkata, where it is highly valued and purchased at `1,000 a kilo, this fish needs more respect in Tamil Nadu, says Manivelu, who also runs an eco park in Chennai that builds awareness about indigenous fish. “This fish has much higher market value than the popular basa and is tastier. A cage farming program was initiated by the central government two years ago to address this steady decline, but the outcome is meagre due to the lack of support from the state government,’’ he says. Since barramundi is an apex predator in the estuary ecosystem, it plays a paramount role in maintaining ecological balance. How can you help? By asking for it in restaurants, you will get distributors and fishing communities to realise its value. After all, basa is just a hybrid catfish from Thailand named pangasius that is, according to reports, often artificially bred. “Barramundi is the national fish of Australia but here in Tamil Nadu, we took the creature for granted and now it has almost disappeared,” concludes Manivelu.
– Regina Gurung