Fishers say their livelihood has been affected
It should ideally be periwinkle blue but the Chilavannoor lake is now smothered by a blanket of brown: dried-up water hyacinth. The ramifications of this eyesore run deeper. Its proliferation over the years has affected their livelihoods, say local fishers.
“Up to 16 Chinese fishing nets operated here almost two decades ago but now there are only four,” says Antony P.X., who has been operating a Chinese fishing net here for 35 years now.
Water hyacinth began invading the lake around 25 years ago, according to Mr. Antony. Catch, which included fin fish and shrimp, now comprises just shrimp. And the quantity is barely one-fourth of what it used to be, he claims.
“The hyacinth dries up only after the high tide brings in saltwater. It then decays and sinks to the bottom. Accumulation of hyacinth over the years has decreased the depth of the lake, removing the habitats of many fish,” he says.
Other traditional livelihoods have also taken a hit. Until around six years ago, Chilavannoor was home to a community of noodlers (‘thappukar’), fisherfolk who walk in shallow water and collect fish using their bare hands, says Lakshmi C.A. who has been living on Bund Road for more than 40 years. “They began getting only waste that flows in through the sewage canals,” she says. “This, combined with the hyacinth invasion, decreased catch so much that they had to leave.”
Hyacinth’s underwater bulbs also create refuges for shrimp, claim the fishers. So some of the invasive plants have to be removed physically to get even a bare minimum catch. Mr. Antony and four other fishermen take to their canoes daily (though even plying small country boats on the shallow hyacinth-strewn lake bed is now difficult) to push out hyacinth from the lake’s northern part to its southern side (under the new bridge built near the Pokkali Park on Bund Road). Removing the pillars of the old bridge from under the new one would naturally force dead hyacinth out of the lake as the tide ebbs. But no action has been taken by officials, claim locals.
However, removing the remnants of the old bridge and clearing the lake bed are part of the agenda of a soon-to-be-implemented ₹234-crore project for the cleaning up five backwater stretches including the Chilvannoor Lake, says councillor P.J. Joseph.