THE predatory African catfish has become the dominant fish in the Prai River, no thanks to a ritual by those who release them there to make wishes, fulfil vows or in the belief that the act is a meritorious deed that leads to longevity.
The proliferation of the foreign catfish spells trouble for local species as it is a carnivorous creature.
“It is a predator in the food chain of the river ecosystem and will eat up other marine life such as small fishes and prawns,” Penang Agriculture, Agro-based Industry, Rural Development and Health Committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin said.
He urged the public to stop releasing non-local fishes into the river, saying that the African catfish had been released in big numbers from a temple building in Taman Sentral, Mak Mandin, in a tradition practised since 2002.
“We are not stopping them from carrying out their wishes but replace the African catfish with local species such as ikan lampam (barb fish) or prawns which are allowed,” Dr Afif said after visiting the building on Friday.
Also present was state Fisheries Department director Noraisyah Abu Bakar.
Dr Afif said the department had conducted a check and found that the African catfish was dominant in the Prai River and was endangering the ecosystem.
He said the department would put up signboards at the temple building carrying the names and pictures of 34 foreign fishes which are prohibited from being released into public waterways.
“It will also distribute flyers to the local community to educate them and create awareness on the prohibited species,” he added.
Dr Afif said the public could contact the department for advice if they wish to release fishes into the river.
He said the department spent RM130,000 to release fish and other marine creatures, including 152,000 freshwater prawn fry, throughout last year.
A committee member of the building where the fishes are released agreed to cooperate with the authorities to prevent the release of the African catfish and other prohibited species.