Monday, March 12, 2012

Cunning fish caught by dozens

SOMETHING fishy is going on in the depths of Lake Titiwangsa. A foreign species of fish is fast populating the lake. I found out about it a few weeks ago while visiting the park.

At that time, a fishing event organised by a group of lure casting anglers was in progress. I thought nothing of the event until I saw what most anglers were reeling up. A foreign species of fish, known as the peacock bass, or ikan raja in Malay (Wong Tai Yue in Cantonese), were hitting the lures by the dozens.

During another fishing competition held the same lake five years ago, I did not remember seeing this fish being hooked up. At that time, however, I have also read reports of the peacock bass having been released into the wild.

Peacock basses became popular during the Flowerhorn cichlid craze about a decade ago and were kept as ornamental aquarium fish. However, their popularity did not last and owners were soon dumping them into the wild. The species had swamped the disused mining pools and lakes in Perak, particularly in Gopeng.

Local anglers had, at that time, raised their concerns over the release of this fast breeding South American gamefish into our waterways. Heated debates were exchanged in online fishing forums as to whether the predatory peacock bass would decimate the population of local species.

The number of peacock bass I saw being landed at Lake Titiwangsa recently gave me the impression that their population in Lake Titiwangsa is growing. One angler I met that morning told me he was landing a peacock bass at every alternate cast made just after sunrise.

Although I have read that this fish is a very cunning and not easily caught on rod and line, what I saw in the collection tank that day spelt worry.

Either there were too many peacock bass around or the anglers were bass experts. I hope it is not the former, and pray that the tilapia, grass carps, sepat (spotted gourami) and puyu (climbing perch) which were abundant in the 1970s and 80s in the lake have not been wiped out.

The fear of foreign fish decimating indigenous species is not unfounded. If you recall, some years back in North America, the appearance of giant snakehead (toman) sparked fears that the fish would lead to the extinction of local species there.

A chance discovery of the species sparked nationwide fears and even inspired a Hollywood horror movie. Notices were put up by game authorities to kill the fish on sight.

Some waterways had to be poisoned to remove the snakehead population.

While it is unlikely that the peacock bass in our waters (especially in urban lakes) will suffer a similar fate, its population here has to be kept under control, a fish lover tells me.

One way, he says, is to keep the peacock bass's natural predators (one of which is the toman) in respectable numbers. The other is by culling through game fishing.

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