Friday, February 9, 2007

Strange-looking Catfish Hooked

KLUANG: An invasion of exotic aliens has thrilled sportsmen, but it has others seriously concerned over the natural balance of things.

Since the two waves of flooding in Johor, anglers have been thrilled with the exotic fish they are catching. But the invasion is a serious threat to the ecological balance of Johor’s rivers and the authorities must act quickly before the damage is permanent.

Orang Asli and inland fishermen at Kampung Batu 17 in Kahang, who ply Sungai Sembrong, have recently been netting the tiger shovelnose catfish (Psedoplatystoma fasciatum).

Native to South America, it is a large predator with a voracious appetite for prawns and other fish.

Fishermen Siow Hai Meng, who has operated a kelong-type fish farm in Sungai Sembrong since 1990, said fishermen had been catching a lot of strange-looking fish lately but the South American catfish is the strangest of them all.

"We usually throw strange fish back into the river for fear it is a bad omen for us," he said.

"But I kept the strange two-kilogramme catfish because I was curious to know what it is."

According to Malaysian Nature Society Johor branch bio-diversity research head Vincent Chow, who identified the fish, this particular catfish can grow up to 1.3m in length and 17kg in weight.

"The female can produce about eight million eggs per kilogramme of body weight and if it is allowed to multiply in our rivers, we may lose much of our indigenous species to these predators."

Chow said the great number of exotic species reported to have escaped from flooded ponds and aquarium shops during the Johor floods did not augur well for the future of Johor’s river systems.

Chow said another catfish variety reared by aquarium shops, the South American armoured catfish was also found in large quantities in Sungai Sembrong and Sungai Kahang, adding that Orang Asli fishermen killed the fish on sight as they consider it a great nuisance.

But even though the floods have magnified the problem of exotic fish escaping into our rivers, it is a well known that breeders and aquarium operators also regularly discard their stocks in the rivers when demand and prices drop drastically, says Chow.

"Fish from South America like the peacock bass, araipama, colossoma (or bawal merah) and the alligator gar from Florida and zebra cichlid from Africa are some of the other exotic fish found in our rivers now," said Chow.

In Batu Pahat, angler Muhamad Razib Musa caught a 30cm African catfish weighing 250gm and said he had the shock of his life to see the odd-looking leathery fish with its frog-like head, protruding tongue and long whiskers.

He said after reeling in the fish he was so shocked by its appearance but took it home.

He plans to rear it in an aquarium and sell it if someone offers a good price.

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