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 Post subject: Inland Fishing in Sri Lanka
 Post Posted: Sat Jan 28, 2006 4:46 am 
Inland Fishing in Sri Lanka

27Jan2006 / @ The island

Fishing is one of the oldest professions in the world, from Biblical times. During the life of Jesus Christ, it was a group of humble fishermen on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, that he summoned, to become his disciples, promising to make them "catchers of men".

There are old sayings connected with the word ‘Fish’. For instance, ‘To fish in troubled waters’ and like ‘A fish out of water’. The first refers to an opportunist who makes profit out of disturbances, and the second denotes a human being in a wrong element.

Fresh water Fishermen live by the waters such as Lakes, Rivers, Tanks and Lagoons, while their brethren on the coast line, who venture into the seas, live close to the sea. Although fish commands a ready sale, we find that the fisherman is a pauper living in squalor and abject poverty. It is only the middleman who benefits from their sweat. The present Minister of Fisheries has a laudable plan to educate young fishermen in the methods of scientific fishing, with Government patronage, and even to turn out graduates in this art.

While the seas around the Island of Sri Lanka are full of varieties of sea fish, fish also abound in inland collections of water, both brackish and fresh water. The fish that live in brackish water are quite different from those that live in fresh water. The Island’s distribution of brackish water are lagoons, and the estuaries of Puttalam, Negombo, Batticoloa and the lakes of Koggala, Dodanduwa and Balapitiya. These are famous for crustacean like crabs and prawns while the rivers, streams, tanks and villus where there is natural fresh water, the type of fish are different. They are the Ara, Loola, Hunga, Valaya, Magura, Pethiya and Madakariya. Large Prawns called Andu Issa, with long claws, are also found there. All these fish are indigenous, while there are two kinds of fresh water fish which are foreign to this country, such as the Tilapia introduced by the Government to augment the fish supply, and Gouramy, a total vegetarian, that has accidentally been introduced into the Mahaweli ganga from a pond at the Peradeniya Gardens, during floods decades ago. This large size fish now breed profusely in the Mahaweli river, the Ambanganga and all the tanks and villus fed by these rivers.

Fish like the Magura, Hunga, Loola, Kanaya and the Kawaiya can exist for long periods buried in damp mud. These fish have adapted themselves to support life out of water, or in minimum water. When there is a flood, they activate themselves and resume life in the water. The Kawaiya is a sturdy fish with a blunt head, and its body is encased in tough scales. They grow to a maximum of five to eight inches, and are called the Walking Fish. They migrate from one water source to another over land, stepping up on their strong fins in a lateral movement.

Batticaloa is famous for its Singing Fish. They are supposed to live in the lagoon. People can hear the singing of the fish from a boat during a moonlight night. It is best heard by dipping the oar into the water and keeping the handle to the ear. The scientific belief on this singing fish is that when water flows over open mouthed mollusks that are found on the bed of the lagoon, musical sounds emanate akin to be coming from an orchestra.

There is a peculiar fish in the ‘Bentara Ganga, called the ‘Archer’ Fish, which has a unique way of getting it’s food. It sustains itself on insects and flies, that live in the overhanging branches of trees above the river, by shooting water bubbles at the insects, even upto a-height of eight feet. When the insect falls, it at once, gulps it. They are excellent marksmen and use their mouths as weapons. Their fins are yellow and black, while they have a green yellow coat.

The most popular method of fishing is with the Wisi Dela’. This is a conical shaped net of small mesh, with a strong string attached to its apex. The large circular base or the periphery, is weighted with heavy pellets of lead enclosed in a frill, so that no sooner the net touches the water after it is cast, it sinks to the bottom, preventing the fish from escaping. Once the net is cast, the string attached to the apex is gradually pulled so that the net closes up, trapping the fish caught in the net. It is a sight, to witness a fisherman cast this net, which is folded on his arm, with a sweep, casting with astonishing accuracy, ensuring a wide spread.

Another method of catching fish is with the ‘Pala Dela’, a net of great length, and about eight feet wide. The base of this net is weighted with rounded up broken pieces of ‘chatti, to enable it to sink and to hold it vertical in water. Floats are attached at intervals. Sometimes split fronds of young coconut leaves are attached to the net, where it gets its name, ‘Pala Dela’, This is done to camouflage the net. This net is cast across two points in the stretch of the lake where fish swimming across it, gets caught. The fishermen also fix barricades across narrow arcs of the lakes, with sheets of woven bamboo tats, called ‘Bata Pelali’. In this barricade called the Kotuwa, is a chamber at the deep point of the water, where the fish entering are unable to get out. Fish thus trapped are fished out with the help of a hand net or Athanguwa’. To activate a Kotuwa, one has to obtain an annual license on the payment of a fee, from the Local Authority. Catching shrimps or prawns are usually done in the night, with the help of a lighted lamp, stuck in the mud on a pole above the water. When the prawns attracted by the light approach it, men with hand nets fish them out, standing in the water waist deep. Catching crabs who are bottom feeders, is different. The contrivance used, is a ring made out of a strong creeper, to which is attached a piece of discarded net and a cross bar.

In the center is fixed a bait, usually a putrefying dead fish or animal matter. The finished product would appear as the top of a mosquito bell-net. The fishermen drop these traps at selected spots in the water, and to denote the location, a float made out of a piece of coconut husk tied with a piece of choir rope, is fixed. The crabs smelling the bait, climb onto the ring to feed on it. When the trap is raised, the victim has no chance to walk out and is caught in the sagging net. Korali is caught in a cage made out of wire netting, devised like a rat trap, with cups of pressed ‘Poonac’ fixed inside the cage. When the fish enters to enjoy the Poonac, they are unable to swim out. The ‘Karakgediya’ is a device, to catch fresh water fish in shallow and muddy water. The contrivance used is a bell shaped basket, made of strong sticks, tied close together, and which is open at the top and the bottom. The fisherman plunges this basket in the water, and any fish caught inside, is taken with the hand.

A rare and ingenious method of catching large fish called ‘Vekku’, in Dodanduwa lake, at the point where it enters the sea, is with the Afhoniya. When sea water enters the lake in high tide, making the water see through, like in a glass aquarium, this large fish swim towards the sea. Four large ladders, made of long Bamboo or tree trunks, are planted in the form of a square, at four points, two on either side of the arm of the lake. Four men climb these ladders, and lower a basket like net, resembling a handkerchief, held by the four comers, with the help of coir rope. The side of the net facing the direction of the flow of the lake is lowered into the water, while the other side is held above the water like a barricade. When the fish swimming in the direction of the sea, enters the net, which is clearly seen, the net is pulled up briskly, trapping the fish in the basket like net. When the fish thus caught, jump up in the net, people in a boat attack the fish with poles, and kill them.

The Tight Line Fisherman, is one who experiences the thrills of fishing. He uses a well seasoned Kitul Rod’ with a sensitive tip, to which is attached a line and hook, to match the size of the fish he contemplates to catch. His experienced hand detects the slightest nibble on the bait, which usually is a piece of prawn flesh. These natural fishing rods, when they are properly treated, rival the imported Reel Rods. The cunning of the wary fish, is matched by the wits and dexterity of the tight line fisherman.

Some indulge in poisoning fish with the juice of a creeper called ‘Kalawel’, which grown in the forest. This is usually done in streams and rivers during dry weather, when the water flow is shallow. The fish both big and small, die right along the path of the flowing water.

Besides the aforesaid methods of fishing, some unscrupulous fishermen through their disregard for the environment, and heedless to the wanton destruction of all fish, including the fry and the spawn, use Dynamite to catch fish, flouting all laws enacted, prohibiting it. This is done both in the sea and inland waters. A piece of dynamite rod, with a detonator cap attached, is carefully wrapped in dried plantain leaves, now a days, in Polythene paper, to prevent it from getting soaked, The fuse used is of short length, just enough for it to explode, no sooner it touches the water. When the fisherman spots a shoal of fish, he throws the device, destroying both big and small along with their spawn.

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