Saturday, July 22, 2017

Battery fishing rise threatens unique dolphin cooperation

An illegal fisherman on a protected stretch of the Ayeyarwady River near Mandalay. Photo: SuppliedAn illegal fisherman on a protected stretch of the Ayeyarwady River near Mandalay. Photo: Supplied

The unique practice of cooperative fishing between Irrawaddy dolphins and fishermen in Mandalay Region is under threat because of electric fishing, sources said last week.

Groups of electric fishing boats can be found in a 74-kilometre-long dolphin protected area, and conservation officials say they are unable to stop the practice because the fishermen are armed and travel in large groups.

Ko Wira, a filmmaker who is making a documentary film about Irrawaddy dolphins, said the number of boats rigged to use electricity to catch fish had “significantly increased” in the conservation area when he visited in May.

“There were 30-40 electric fishing boats even in the conservation area,” he told The Myanmar Times. “It was like a festival at night with the light from the electric fishing boats. We heard the sound of generators from them … we could even see the fishermen who were using electric fishing equipment during day time,” he said.

The filmmaker said the behaviour of the dolphins had changed noticeably in the past two-and-a-half years, which he attributed to their fear of electric fishing boats.

“We saw Irrawaddy dolphins and also cooperative fishing during our first trip in January 2010, and on only two of our 27 days we didn’t see a single dolphin. But on my May visit, which lasted 18 days, we didn’t see a single dolphin for seven days. Although we saw the dolphins in other days, we only saw them from a distance. They didn’t approach our boat – instead, they went away when they heard the sound of the engine,” he said.

Ko Wira said this had effectively put an end to the custom of cooperative fishing, where the dolphins help herd fish into the nets of local fishermen.

“Dolphins don’t approach the boats anymore and the fishermen have changed to other jobs they can no longer make a living from fishing. This unique habit of cooperative fishing is disappearing,” he said.