Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Fish in the desert
Today, I was in Ashirmat, my favorite village on the Turkmen border. Interesting interviews, but also a good, hearty lunch: fried carp with onions, vinegar and bread -eerily close to fish 'n chips.
My friend Erik- Jan, resident fisheries engineer in Norway, already indicated that we're probably dealing with grass carp, introduced to clean up the irrigation canals. And indeed, that is what the Uzbek colleagues confirmed, and what I found in an FAO study: introduced in 1958 for weed control, taking over most native species in the freshwater bodies (in Korezm, 36 species still hanging in there). People here acquired a taste for fish, and the collapse of Aral Sea fisheries meant more pressure on inland waters.
That's why currently every little swamp, each insignificant irrigation canal, minute pond or drainage lake (if not too salty) is used for fishing, for carp, and sometimes catfish -an omnivorous predator of the abundant carp. Even rice fields are used for fishing. I saw people pushing tiny boats through swamps with barely a stretch of open water, kids hauling up nets from ditches, and every now and then a man on a bridge, proudly showing a trophy carp.
For many villages in Khorezm, the lakes and wetlands, especially natural ones, are symbolic places; fishing there is an almost ritualized activity, more important than an extra acre of farmland. In the heyday of Soviet land reclamation, this local attachment was probably as effective a protection as their functionality as drainage reservoir.
And the grass carp? He was a bit too successful, cleaned up the weeds, but apparently didn't appreciate ranunculus species (like buttercups) so one group of weeds replaced another one. Luckily, the locals do appreciate the grass carp.