Mannar, Chilaw shrimp farms face scrutiny over effluentsView(s):
After a recent field study found that a majority of shrimp and aquaculture farms across the country have failed to comply with environmental regulations, the Fisheries Ministry directed relevant government agencies, the National Aquatic Culture Development Authority (NAQDA) and the National Aquatic Resources Development and Research Agency (NARA) to take immediate legal action against those farms.
“Take legal action against all the shrimp farms in Mannar and Chilaw areas that don’t release wastewater in a proper way,” Fisheries Minister Douglas Devananda directed senior officials at a meeting held last Friday to discuss issues regarding the mismanagement of shrimp farms in the North and North-Western provinces.
While stressing the need to take legal action against those companies “irrespective of their status”, Mr. Devananda also directed officials to submit a report on action taken and take action against the NAQDA officials who did not fulfil their responsibility, according to a statement issued by the ministry on the meeting.
A separate report has also been called on the measures taken against NAQDA officials who failed in their duties to ensure that shrimp farms adhered to environmental regulations.
A recent field study carried out by relevant agencies found that of the 670 shrimp farms in the Chilaw and Puttalam areas, at least 273 lacked proper wastewater management plans.
Mr. Devananda visited some of those farms recently and observed that it’s the responsibility of NAQDA and NARA to regularly monitor the farms’ wastewater management systems.
The directives came after a shrimp farm run by Taprobane Seafoods, located near an environmentally sensitive Vidathalthivu protected natural sanctuary, was found to be discharging wastewater from the farm, resulting in the death of fish banks in the nearby waterway and the surrounding natural habitat.
The Sunday Times reported last week on the environmental disaster and how the local fishermen’s groups are yet to be informed of any steps taken against the company, which they allege has caused significant losses in their fish catch over the years due to discharging effluent from the farm.
Mr. Devananda also questioned the effects of the wastewater released by another shrimp farm in the Erukkulam area in Mannar. He asked officials to inform the shrimp farm, which lacked an adequate system to manage wastewater, that they should prepare a suitable system within six months.
“If it cannot prepare a system on its own, it could join with some other farms and build tanks,” he said.
Local fishermen also stressed that this is not the first time they had noticed dead fish banks found in the Vidathalthivu waterway; on May 20, four years ago (2019), dead fish banks were also seen on the Nayaru coast as nearby waterways that pass through the natural sanctuary connect the lagoon.
To address the mismanagement of shrimp farms in the North-Western Province, a committee has inspected 176 farms so far and is scheduled to submit a report after the inspection of the rest of the farms, said NAQDA Director General Dr. J.M. Asoka, who took part in the meeting.
The committee, appointed by the Minister, consists of officials from NAQDA, NARA, the Divisional Secretariat, the Central Environmental Authority, and the North Western Provincial Ministry of Fisheries.
According to the Strategic Environmental Assessment report commissioned by NAQDA and the World Bank under the Aquaculture Development Programme for the North, nearly 83%, or 20,450 MT, of shrimp production is expected from pond and circular tank systems in the Northern Province by 2025.
The Coastal Aquaculture Monitoring and Extension Unit of NAQDA has issued four licences so far for shrimp farms, while another 21 applications are under consideration.
The report also stressed that any proposed aquaculture projects in the North should be considered carefully, given that the pollutants discharged from aquaculture practices may adversely affect the mangroves, seagrass beds, and coral reefs around aquaculture development zones.
“Mangrove ecosystems remain highly threatened, especially with the proposed aquaculture project to be developed in the Vidathalthivu area. Hence, special attention is required to be paid to the sustainability of the mangrove ecosystems in the Northern Province, especially in the Vidathalthivu, Achchankulam, Nrivillukulum, and Vankalai areas, during the selection of areas for aquaculture development,” the report said, stressing that chemical and organic pollution risks are prominent in shrimp pond culture practices.
According to NAQDA statistics, even though shrimp culture farming was introduced in the North in recent years, of the total shrimp production of 14,413 metric tonnes in the country in 2021, about 921.64 MT were sourced from the Northern Province alone, where farming is highly intensive in closed systems and production per unit area is very high.
In compliance with wastewater discharge standards, the report recommended that the prevailing standards for the discharge of wastewater into inland water bodies and into marine coastal waters gazetted by the CEA be imposed through the aquaculture licence as well as the annual Environmental Protection Licence (EPL). “The required treatment methodology for wastewater discharges from pond and hatchery aquaculture should be made freely available to the project proponents in order for them to adopt such treatment measures within their farms.”
Taprobane Seafoods says complying with regulations
Rejecting the allegations by fishermen’s groups, the company Taprobane Seafoods Pvt. Ltd. said the “fish shown in the video were found in the water used for reservoir cleaning by the farm, and they are prone to dying due to pumping”.
Stressing that the farm is fully compliant with all relevant legal requirements, including environmental regulations, the company says it does not discharge any effluent into the environment and prioritises water recycling to address the issue of water scarcity.
“We do constant reservoir washing, which does not flow into the Vidathalthivu protected sanctuary or the sea; it is contained within our reservation area. We grow fish in our reservoirs to keep the water fresh and as part of the biological treatment,” the company said in a written response to a questionnaire sent by the Sunday Times.
The company, which is certified by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) Best Aquaculture Practice (BAP) standards, is said to be pursuing Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certification which confirms “that there has been no practice of negligence on its farms’’.
“It is worth noting that during peak summer the Vidathalthivu sanctuary does not support fish populations due to factors such as high salinity, limited rainfall, less tidal action, and high summer temperatures,” the company said while stressing that fish deaths in canals are a common occurrence during the summer months, primarily due to elevated salinity levels, high temperatures, and reduced tidal action.
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