Ganges River Dolphin and Fishery in Nepal

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Kurakani Series 1

Recently, I got a chance to be back in Karnali, a place that feels like a second home! The visit made me privy to some local stories and indigenous knowledge. I had a chat with some Sonaha women about dolphins and fishery and they had some interesting insights.

As a child, Laxmi recalls asking her father why, even when in such close proximity, did the dolphins not overturn their boats when in water. To that, she recalls her father answering that the boats were like a brother-in-law to the dolphins and so, they never touched it.

An adult Ganges River Dolphin weighs around 150 kg and its size ranges from 1.5 2.5 m. It also surfaces every few minutes for air. The dolphin can easily overturn a boat but I have never heard of that happening in any of my field surveys (if anyone knows of this, please comment below). I guess it is a kind of mechanism the dolphins have developed so as to co-exist with the humans. Dolphins have long persisted in human-dominated river systems and shown close association with sites of frequent human use such as bathing and washing ghats, ferry ghats and cremation ghats, as written by Sinha and Kannan (2014).

But the way people make up stories to explain this phenomenon is quite interesting to me. In ancient times, humans made up stories to make sense of the frightening world around them. I believe Nepal has many such undiscovered stories and it is high time we document them and not just through verbal communication.

In another conversation with Goma, another local Sonaha woman, she recalled the use of ‘Bhusauli’ which is a mixture of husk and buffalo dung. It was used as a fish attractant, 10 years or so back.  Bhusauli used to be congregated with rocks in the river to attract fish. After 1-2 hours of this procedure, nets were used to fish. But now, she says it does not work because the water level has decreased and so has the number of fish.

Globally there has been a drop in the population of freshwater species of fish  – a drop of 83% of average abundance since 1970 has been assessed. Likewise, in less than 50 years, population of migratory freshwater fish have declined by 76%. Nepal has also registered a decline in fish stocks in several rivers but there is lack of studies as to the extent in such declines. In this case, social surveys dealing with catch per unit effort come into play. As explained by Goma, their knowledge becomes vital in estimating the extent of decline. This is what our Conservation Leadership Programme funded research project is trying to achieve. As more field work are planned, I strive to explore more local stories and indigenous knowledge.

At last, I have found that nothing quite captures the magic of local people relaying their experiences. So, I have also attached a video at the end.

Anu Rai

I am an aspiring environmental researcher.

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