Sunday, January 03, 2010

Local catfish fighting with African breed for survival

January 3, 2010
The Star

KUALA LUMPUR: The local freshwater walking catfish or keli kayu, a favourite among Malaysians, may soon be a thing of the past if nothing is done to conserve the fish.

Malaysian Zoological Society ecologist Herman Bernard Ganapathy said the catfish (Clarias batrachus), used to be commonly found but now could only be located in remote villages.

“If we don’t do anything about it now, it may head towards being endangered in the next 10 to 15 years,” said Herman yesterday.

The local catfish is usually found in swampy areas, lowland rivers, padi fields and mining pools, but since the introduction of the African catfish, its population has dwindled.

“This is a concern when foreign species are introduced into our local ecosystem and they compete for food and space, and cross breed and reduced the diversity level,” Herman said.

He had to go to a remote village in Negri Sembilan to look for the species for Zoo Negara’s aquarium, which was launched on Friday.

He said the Fisheries Department gave farmers the African catfish and tilapia fish to breed, both highly ferocious eaters, instead of local fish.

He said the African catfish was favoured by farmers because it was hardier and bigger than the local breed and was more viable commercially.

“The local catfish could grow up to 30cm but the African catfish could grow to more than double the size,” he added.

It was also a concern that fish traders and hobbyists sometimes dumped foreign fish species that they did not want into the river and this could affect the local species, he said.

Herman said the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry and the Fisheries Department should seriously look into this.

An avid angler, L.C. Ti, said the keli kayu was small and grew slower than the African breed but tasted sweeter and its texture was smoother.

“We rarely see the keli kayu these days,” he added.

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