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Kazakhstan: Bringing the Fish Back to the Aral Sea

Central Asia's Aral Sea used to be a fisherman's paradise. Today the body of water has shriveled up almost completely, with former fishing villages now finding themselves some 20 kilometers from the waterfront. In Kazakhstan, an effort is underway, though, to restock the that country's portion of the with fish and revive the local fishing industry. From an article in The Ecologist:

It is jarring to drive on what was once the Aral Sea. The Ecologist is en route to see the Kok-Aral Dam, some three-hours from Aral City on the border between the North and South Aral Sea and the delta of the Syr Darya River. The desertified sea bed is now home to camels and horses, grazing lazily on bits of grass. A couple of ships lie stranded along the drive, but the fabled ship cemeteries have gone, the victims of looting for scrap metal.

Once the water comes into to view, it isn't the rich wetland ecosystem it once was, but there are now signs of life returning. A few herons, ducks, storks and seagulls can be seen along the shoreline.

Already the Kok-Aral dam has provided a lease on life for the nearby villages. Water levels, which originally were 53 metres above Baltic Sea level, and at the lowest, 38 metres, have now increased to 42 metres above Baltic Sea level. Salinity has decreased 5 times, which has enabled 7 fish species to return, and fish catch has increased 10-12 times.

The Ecologist visits a small fish processing centre near Karaterren village. Along with flounder, there is carp, pike perch, and catfish all caught on the day using small motor boats. Batyrkhan Brekeev, a fisherman and the son and the father of fishermen, recently returned to fishing after years as a 'businessman'.

Fish catch is now heavily regulated and enforced, the fishermen say, through quotas and inspections. In the last year a total of 2,500 tonnes of fish were processed in the 3 processing plants in Aral City. Mayor Nahmadin Musabasev says the catch should rise to 12,000 tonnes by the end of the second phase of the World Bank project. Increased efficiency of irrigation will provide more River water flowing into the sea.

Fish stocks are bolstered by a hatchery in nearby Kozhar village, which releases millions of eggs of various species every year.

The full article can be found here. Eurasianet's Joanna Lillis took a look in 2009 at Kazakh efforts to revive the Aral Sea, in an article found here.

Kazakhstan: Bringing the Fish Back to the Aral Sea

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