With dark green tinges all over the body, Bheda fish (gangetic leaffish) could easily be mistaken as Koi fish (Anabas cobojius) at first glance. While Koi fish are abundant in the market, Bheda has vanished due to a lack of breeding grounds.
This small freshwater fish is known by different names depending on the region. Some know it as "Meni" while others call it "Nandoi" or "Roina". In the country's northern part, people know it as "Bheda".
There was a time when this fish species was ubiquitous in the canals, swamps and wetlands across the country. They were also found in flooded paddy fields or jute fields during monsoons. But it became near extinct mainly due to heavy use of excessive chemicals and pesticides in croplands, environmental pollution, lack of water bodies and climate change.
Bheda is not mass-cultivated like other fish species. However, the Bangladesh Fisheries Research Institute has already bred this species in the laboratory and now plans big for its pisciculture.
Researchers of the institute said its Santahar substation in Adamdighi upazila of Bogura district is the only floodplain in the country, maybe in the world, where Bheda fish is being bred.
Dr Yahia Mahmud, director general of the institute, told The Business Standard, "Bheda is a native fish. We have made plans for its mass cultivation. We have been researching about 64 extinct fish. Of these, about 40 fish have been bred artificially. This is a huge achievement for the institute."
The headquarters of the autonomous government institution is located in Mymensingh. It has five stations and five sub-stations across the country based on different aquatic ecosystems.
The institute conducts research on the development of pond-based fisheries, the development of improved fish breeds, the development of fish nutrition and food, disease control, pearl production in freshwater oysters, and the preservation of endangered fish gene pools.
Among the five substations, research is going on in Santahar on 16 species of indigenous small fishes, including Bheda, Batasi, Kajli, Kakila, Gang Tengra and Rani, which are about to become extinct, said Dr Devit Rintu Das, a senior scientific officer at Santahar substation.
Bheda fish (scientific name Nandus nandus) is about 20cm long. They are generally carnivorous and feed on aquatic insects, insect larvae, and small fish. April to September is their breeding season.
"We brought this fish [Bheda] to the substation's floodplain in 2004-2005 and managed its conservation, rearing and breeding activities," Rintu said.
He also said this artificial breeding of Bheda fish is done only in Santahar substation in the whole world. Suitable soil and water are required for the preservation of this floodplain fish.
Every year about 100,000 Bheda fish fry are distributed among fish farmers and the supply of fry will be increased gradually, Rintu Das said, adding that as the institute provides fish fry to the farmers at low prices, these native fish are now being farmed in the ponds.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 64 species of 260 freshwater fish in Bangladesh are endangered. Of these, nine are critically endangered, 30 are endangered and 25 are at risk of being endangered.
Research on different near-extinct fishes in floodplain substations started around 1998. Breeding success came in 2005. After the success in breeding, different fish fries are being released in the wetlands and canals by government and private initiatives. However, these fish have not yet been bred in private hatcheries but farmers in Naogaon, Mymensingh and Bogura are cultivating these fish.
Latiful Parvez has been cultivating Bheda fish in the Dhanjail area of Mohadevpur upazila of Naogaon for some time now after buying some 200 fries of Bheda fish from the Santahar substation eight months ago. He however has not marketed it yet.
"Many native species of fish are on the verge of extinction. However, scientists have succeeded in breeding these fish, which is good news. Now we farmers have to work on this too. I myself am farming Bheda fish and planning to market it soon," said the farmer.
At present, this fish is selling in the market for Tk500-700 per kg, said Shishir Kumar Dey, scientific officer of Santahar substation.
"After six months of farming in the pond, each Bheda fish will weigh about 400 grams. It will be profitable for farmers as demand for it in the market is good," Shishir Kumar Dey added.
According to the global report of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), "The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020", Bangladesh now ranks third in freshwater fish production in the world. China and India are ahead.
The report said there has been a revolutionary change in fish farming in ponds in Bangladesh.