THE reported commercial farming of invasive fish is likely to further endanger the aquatic biodiversity unless the government takes immediate steps against it. A probe report of the Department of Fisheries has found that the highly invasive suckermouth catfish, globally recognised for rapidly degrading aquatic ecology and biodiversity, is in commercial production in Bangladesh. The protracted breeding period, its ability to survive in low oxygen and high toxicity in water has allowed the fish to establish natural population in Bangladesh. The probe conducted in and around the capital found evidence that hatchers are farming certain varieties of the species alongside Telapia for commercial purposes. The report concludes that the species has colonised the local fish habitat as the problem has for long been overlooked and recommends an immediate ban on commercial farming. The probe report of the fisheries department acknowledges its own negligence in recognising a problem that was detected decades ago and highlights the regulatory failure and lack of guideline in importing and cultivating wildlife specimen for commercial purposes.

The suckermouth catfish, a native fish of South America, was originally imported to Bangladesh as an ornamental fish for the household aquarium and was first sighted in open water during the early 1990s. Experts consider the fish as a major threat to aquatic lives and biodiversity as the rapid propagation of the catfish can trigger an immediate food crisis for native algivores. The invasion may eventually threaten the survival of indigenous fish varieties including ruhi, catla, mrigel and hilsa. This is, however, not the first case of invasion of alien fish in the water bodies of Bangladesh. Earlier, the farming of omnivorous African catfish and South American piranha created similar concern. The government, three decades after its introduction, banned farming of African magur in 2013. The decision to ban the farming of invasive alien species was welcomed by many, but it also highlighted a lack of foresight of the government. A thorough aquatic biodiversity impact assessment was needed, but the government has introduced a new fish variety for commercial farming without a long term assessment. In general, the agencies concerned are not proactive in preserving the indigenous fish varieties that are common source of fish protein for the working class people in Bangladesh.

It is commendable that the fisheries department has taken a proactive role and conducted a probe to investigate the scale of the invasion of suckermouth catfish. Since the scope of the study was geographically restricted, the government must immediately arrange a nationwide assessment to have a better understanding of the scale and number of hatcheries involved in commercial production of the hazardous species. It must also quickly enforce a ban on the commercial farming of the fish as recommended by the probe committee. However, there is an urgent need for a legislation to prevent the release of ornamental fishes that can damage the aquatic ecology of Bangladesh.

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