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Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge

Vol. 13 (3), July 2014, pp. 619-625

Fishing gears operated in lentic and lotic water bodies of Cooch Behar district,
West Bengal, India
Ram Krishna Das & Sudip Barat*
Aquaculture and Limnology Research Unit, Department of Zoology,
University of North Bengal, Siliguri 734 013, District Darjeeling, West Bengal, India
E-mails: sudipbarat@rediffmail.com; ramkrishnazoology@gmail.com

Received 07.08.12, revised 20.01.14

A study was carried out to investigate different types of existing fishing gears employed by fishermen in lentic and lotic
water bodies namely beels, ponds and rivers of Cooch Behar district of West Bengal, India. Observations revealed that
various fishing gears are based on one or more factor such as behavior of fishes, microhabitat of fishes, physiography of
water body, seasons of a year and so on. In the district of Cooch Behar about 22 types of fishing gears were documented,
amongst them 8 are categorized as Net fishing gears, 2 as Tackles and 12 as Miscellaneous gears. Most of the fishing gears
are fabricated by local people and fishermen with the help of locally available materials. The very small mesh size, of some
fishing nets, catches all size groups of fishes and in turn results in depletion of fish diversity in the beels, ponds and rivers of
Cooch Behar district.

Keywords: Beel, Cooch Behar, Fish, Fishing gear, Pond, River


IPC Int. Cl.8: A01K 61/00, A01K 69/00, A01K 74/00, A01K 75/00, A01K 79/00

Cooch Behar district is located in the north eastern bearing on the fish population dynamics, it is very
part of the State of West Bengal, India and bounded important to study the nature of gears commonly used
by district Jalpaiguri in the north, State of Assam in that may lead to selective fishing, thus minimizing
the east and the international border in the form stress on a particular size group of fishes9. The fishing
of Indo-Bangladesh boundary in the south as well methods used in the different parts of India have been
as west. The area of the district is 3387 km2 and well described by various authors1-3,5-11.
contributes about 3.87% of the land mass of the State Since, the district has diverse numbers of fishing
of West Bengal. Cooch Behar district has large gears utilized by the fishermen but, detailed study of
numbers of lentic water bodies such as fish ponds fishing gears by a researcher in the past is lacking.
and beels namely Rasik Beel, Raichangmari Beel, The present work, therefore, was focused on the
Bochamari Beel, Naldoba Beel and lotic water fabrication and mode of operation on the different
bodies, such as the rivers, Torsa, Kaljani, Ghargharia, types of fishing gears employed by the fishermen in
Teesta, Jaldhaka,Raidak and Gadadhar which harbour beels, ponds and rivers in the district of Cooch Behar,
different types of fresh water fishes. Most of the West Bengal.
rivers of Cooch Behar district originate in the
Himalayas and enter Cooch Behar district from Methodology
North or North western direction, flowing towards The study was carried out in Cooch Behar district
South or South east direction. Economy of this district of West Bengal (25o57'47'' to 26o36'2'' North latitude
to a great extent is dependent on aquaculture and and between 89o54'35'' to 88o47'44''East longitude).
fisheries. Information on different fishing gears operated in
Application of gears in fishery is a result of lentic and lotic water bodies of Cooch Behar district
experiences gained over a long period of time. were collected by regular visits to 13 fishermens
Every water body has its unique pattern of gears. villages(Ambari, Kaljani, Siddheswari, Ghugumari,
Since the pattern and regulation of fishing has a great Rasikbil, Takoamari, Deocharai, Chengmari, Balaghat,
Chhat Deocharai, Jhaljhali, Shikdarer Khata, Bhurkush.)
*Corresponding author during the period of July 2011 to June 2012. About 24
620 INDIAN J TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE, VOL. 13, NO. 3, JULY 2014

trips have been made during the entire study period. monofilament. Fishes like Mystus sp., Heteropneustes
Altogether 54 fishermen, net makers and prominent fossilis, Clarias batrachus,Channa spp., Anabas sp,
citizens were interviewed to collect information about Puntius spp, Mastacembelus sp., Wallago attu, Labeo
fishing gears. Prior information consent (PIC) was rohita and so on are caught. It is also a major
taken from each individual who provided information fishing gear operated in rivers and beels throughout
about fishing gears. Various types of participatory the year.
research tools such as group discussion, semi-
structured interviews, key informer surveys and site Lift net (Sitki Jal)
observations were done to gather knowledge about The Lift net or Sitki jal (Fig. 3) is a square net.
fishing gears. During data collection, photographs of The four corners of which are tied to the tip of
the representative fishing gears were taken by a digital two crossed flexible bamboos. A bamboo is attached
camera and measurement of some physical characters to the point of crossing and the whole arrangement
such as length, height, width, mesh size (in case of may or may not have a rope. Lift net is usually
nets) were taken by a meter scale. operated in the monsoon months. The major catch
composition includes Puntius spp., Amblypharyngodon
Results mola and Barilius sp.
Summary of the different types of fishing gears
are shown in Table 1. Based on the usage of materials Drag net (Masari jal and Bed jal)
and fabrication, the fishing gears may be classified Drag net (Fig. 4) locally called as Masari jal and
as (i) Net fishing gears(fishing gears which are Bed jal. This net, which is widely used, is structurally
predominantly constructed of net, for example, Cast rectangular in shape and has a head rope carrying
net, Gill net, Lift net, Drag net, Cloth net, Push net, floats and a foot rope with or without sinkers. The net
Stationary lift net, Seine net) (ii) Tackles (fishing is usually operated throughout the year. The mesh
gears in which hooks are an important part to size is less than 0.12cm. Most of the pond fishes
catch fish individually such as Hook and line) and such as Indian Major Carp, Exotic Carp, Labeo bata,
(iii) Miscellaneous gears(all other fishing gears Puntius spp., Mystus sp, Notopterus sp and air-
namely Spear fishing, Electro-fishing)4. breathing fishes are caught by drag net.
(i) Net fishing gears
Cloth net ( Tana Jal )
Cast net (Chhabi Jal) The cloth net is a fine meshed mosquito net.
Cast net or Chhabi Jal (Fig. 1) is the main fishing It is locally called Tana jal. During fishing by
gear of Cooch Behar district. Cast net is a small cloth net, two persons hold the net at opposite ends
bell - shaped net with weights on the periphery and and lift it from the water when sufficient number
having a string. The principle is to throw the net of fishes are trapped. Cloth net is implemented
in a circle for trapping the fishes of a water body. throughout the year except monsoon months in ponds
Cast net is operated in rivers, beels and ponds of Cooch Behar district. The fishes usually caught
throughout the year. Fishes like Indian Major by cloth net are Puntius spp., Amblypharyngodon
Carp, Labeo bata, Hypophthalmichthys molitrix, mola and Esomus denricus.
Ctenopharyngodon idella, Puntius spp., Mystus sp,
and others are caught. Push net (Thela Jal)
Push net or Thela jal is a very common net used
Gill net (Phansi Jal) by local fishermen to catch fishes in the lentic
Gill net locally called Phansi jal (Fig. 2) is and lotic water bodies of Cooch Behar district. It is
commonly used to catch fishes by gilling. Fishes made up of a triangular bamboo frame fitted with a
which try to pass through it get gilled. Mesh size of mosquito netting cloth (Fig. 5). Fishermen operate it
the gill net varies from 0.6-7.5 cm for different sized by pushing it in the water body and is used throughout
target fishes. It is wall netting, rectangular in shape the year. Fishes like Trichogaster sp., spawn and
and is provided with a head rope of polypropylene fry of Murrels, Puntius spp., Amblypharyngodon
carrying floats and a foot rope with or without mola and Esomus denricus are usually caught by the
sinkers. Gill nets are made up of polyamide Push net.
DAS & BARAT: FISHING GEARS OF COOCH BEHAR DISTRICT, WEST BENGAL, INDIA 621

Table 1A summary of the fishing gears operated in the Rivers, Beels and Ponds of Cooch Behar district, West Bengal, India
I. Net Fishing Gears
Fishing Gears Local name Shape Length Height Mesh size Fishing period Number of
(M) (M) (CM) Fisherman required
Cast net Chhabi jal Bell shaped - 4.30-5.20 0.6-6.0 Throughout the year 1
Gill net Phansi jal Rectangular 20-60 0.65-3.5 0.6-7.5 Throughout the year 1
Lift net Sitki jal Square 2.0-3.0 - 0.5-1.0 Monsoon 1
Drag net Masari jal and Rectangular 50 6.0 0.10-0.15 Throughout the year 3-4
Bed jal
Cloth net Tana jal Rectangular - - 0.10-0.15 Throughout the year 2-3
except Monsoon
Push net Thela jal Triangular - - 0.10-0.15 Throughout the year 1
Stationary Khora jal Triangular 10-12 - 0.5-2.0 Throughout the year 1
lift net
Seine net Haath jal Rectangular 20 2.0 0.5-1.0 Monsoon 2
II. Tackles
Fishing gears Local name Shape Length Height Fishing period Number of fishermen
(M) (M) required
Hook and Line Barshi Rod shaped 2.0-3.0 - Throughout the year 1
Barsha Barsha - - - Monsoon 1
III. Miscellaneous Gears
Fishing gears Shape Length Height Fishing period Number of fishermen
(M) (M) required
Koncha /Teta Rod shaped 2.0-3.0 - Throughout the year 1
Shuli Rod shaped 1.5-2.0 - Throughout the year except monsoon 1
Zakoi Triangular - 0.9 Throughout the year except monsoon 1
Pala Ring shaped - 0.4 Throughout the year except monsoon 1
Jhoka Cylindrical - 0.6 Monsoon 1
Chalk Conical - 0.7 Throughout the year except monsoon 1
Tapai Rectangular 0.5-1.5 0.1-0.2 Monsoon 1
Burung Oval 0.7-1.5 0.1-0.2 Monsoon 1
Harrka Triangular - - Throughout the year except monsoon 1-2
Khatal - - - Throughout the year except monsoon 2-3
Bamboo piece Cylindrical 0.5-0.6 - Throughout the year except monsoon 1
Electro-fishing - - - Throughout the year except monsoon 1

Stationary Lift net (Khora Jal) Major Carp, Puntius spp., Barilius sp., Mystus sp and
This is also a popular fishing gear operated in Labeo bata.
different rivers of Cooch Behar district throughout
the year (Fig. 6). In Stationary Lift net or Khora jal, Seine net (Haath Jal)
some bamboo poles are fixed in the water body. Seine net is a rectangular net similar to that of Drag
Two bamboos are then attached at one end and tied net having a head rope carrying floats and foot rope
up with ropes so that they are widely separated at without any sinkers. Seine net is locally called a Haath
opposite ends. To these ends a triangular net is jal. The mesh size of seine net is larger than Drag net
attached. A fisherman can periodically submerge and is operated in the monsoon months. Mode of
and lift this net with the help of bamboo and capture operation of seine net is similar to that of Drag net.
the fishes. Major catch compositions are Indian Fishes like Indian and Exotic carps are usually caught.
622 INDIAN J TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE, VOL. 13, NO. 3, JULY 2014

(ii) Tackles (anode and cathode) from a 12V portable battery


placed on a boat into the river water. The electric
Hook and line (Barshi) current stuns the fishes and erratic movement
An iron hook is usually attached at the end of a occurs by either jumping out of water or coming to
line (nylon cord). This line with attached hook is the water surface to be easily captured by hand or
then fixed to the end of a bamboo stick. Additional scoop net. Electro-fishing is operated in the shallow
arrangement includes a sinker to sink the hook in water areas of the river.
water and a reel for casting the line. The hooks are
provided with baits like earthworm, nymph of beetle, Khatal (Fish aggregating device)
small frog. The hook and line fishing method is In some areas of a rivers where water current is
operated throughout the year. A large number of low, a temporary fencing is prepared by bamboo,
fishes such as Labeo rohita, Puntius spp., Mystus sp., Eichhornia, pistia, banana leaves and twigs. After a
Wallago attu and air-breathers are caught by this few days, these areas are covered by mosquito nets
method. and the fishes are caught by cast net. This method
is applied throughout the year except monsoon.
Barsha Fishes like Indian Major Carp and Exotic Carp are
A Barsha consists of a long line. It is set vertically caught by this method.
down into the water with baited hooks having
a weight at the bottom and a float at the top. Bamboo piece immersion
The Barsha with baited hooks is kept in the Small sized mature bamboo pieces having both
water body in the evening and collected the next sides open and a node in the middle are submerged in
morning. This fishing gear is generally observed the ponds for a few days. The bamboo pieces are then
to be operated during monsoon months in beels and taken out of the ponds by covering the holes with
ponds. Cat fishes and murrels are usually caught by palm or fingers. The fishes entering the bamboo
this fishing gear. pieces are caught. By this method of fishing catfishes
like Heteropneustes fossilis and Clarias batrachus are
(iii) Miscellaneous gears generally harvested.
Spear fishing (Koncha/Teta and Shuli) Harrka or Tapa
Koncha /Teta and Shuli are two types of indigenous It is a triangular bamboo frame attached with a
spears used in Cooch Behar district. Koncha or sheet made up of bamboo. Harrka or Tapa with straw
Teta (Fig. 7) has a long handle made of split bamboo or plant parts is submerged in water. After a couple of
shaft of about 2-3m fitted with many conical iron days, these are taken out of the water body with
rods or projecting bamboo sticks equipped with the help of a rope attached to the harrka or tapa
hooks. It is thrown at the larger fishes by a fisherman and the trapped fishes are caught. Major fish catch
standing by the side of a water body or in a boat. compositions are fresh water loach, Lepidocephalicthys
The spear (Koncha or Teta) is used to catch Labeo guntea, Mastacembelus sp and Channa spp.
rohita, Ctenopharyngodon idella, Catla catla,
Wallago attu, Channa spp. and Clarias batrachus. Zakoi
On the other hand, Shuli (Fig. 8) is made of 1.5-2.0 m Zakoi is an indigenous fishing gear made by
long iron rod, the end of which is angular in shape. local fishermen of the Cooch Behar district with
It is repeatedly insert in and around the holes the help of bamboo. It has an upper and a lower side.
of marginal embankments by the fishermen until a The upper side is made up of a triangular bamboo
vibration is felt on the handle indicating, the presence frame, whereas, the lower side which is closed
of Monopterus cuchia in the holes and the fish is below has a sieve made of bamboo attached to the
caught by digging. triangular frame. This structure thus results in a
central space being formed and opens through this
Electro-fishing frame. The gear has a handle made up of bamboo
In Cooch Behar district, electro-fishing is a attached at one angle of the triangular bamboo frame
common practice in some rivers. Here fishes are and a rope is tied at the base of the frame (Fig.9.).
caught by passing an electric current via electrodes Zakoi can be operated by a fisherman in rivers and
DAS & BARAT: FISHING GEARS OF COOCH BEHAR DISTRICT, WEST BENGAL, INDIA 623

ponds of this district. Fishes like Puntius spp., one- way valve. Due to this valve, fishes entering
Trichogaster sp., Amblypharyngodon mola, Channa the box cannot escape. The diameter of the door
spp can be caught. Fishing by Zakoi is also employed is 0.25m wide so that fish of large size can be
by women. caught. The trap is set at a water depth of 0.15m
keeping the water level just above the door with
Pala the help of rope, mud and branches of trees. Fishes
An indigenous fishing gear too, of the district, moving along with water enter through the doors.
has ring-like appearance with a wide opening at By this gear live fishes can be caught without any
the lower side and a narrow opening on the upper physical injury. Tapai is very common in Cooch
side made up of bamboo sticks (Fig.10). In summer Behar district as no guarding of the trap is required.
and winter when the level of water decreases, Pala is The trap is placed in a specific location and taken
kept at the bottom of the water body trapping out after some time or some days. Tapai is operated
some amount of water where fishes are expected. in monsoon months of a year in rivers and beels.
The trapped fishes in the Pala are handpicked. The major catch composition are Mystus sp.,
Small and medium sized fishes are caught by this Mastacembelus sp., Puntius spp., Channa spp.,
device in turbid and muddy water. Lepidocephalicthys sp and prawns.

Jhoka Burung
Jhoka, an indigenous fishing basket, is cylindrical Burung is an oval shaped indigenous fishing trap
in shape made of bamboo sticks having two made of bamboo sticks interwoven by nylon threads
openings (Fig.11). Mode of operation is similar (Fig. 14). Working principle of Burung is similar to
to that of Pala. Only difference with Pala is that that of Tapai. Unlike Tapai it has only one entrance
small fishes can be caught in it. Jhoka is operated and is operated in monsoon months in rivers and
in the monsoon months of the year in different rivers beels. Burung is used to catch small fishes like
of this district. Puntius spp, Channa spp, Amblypharyngodon mola
and so on.
Chalk
Another indigenous fishing gear of the district, Discussion
has a wide opening at the lower side surrounded The study of different types of fishing gears
by a rounded bamboo frame attached to a net operated in rivers, beels and ponds of Cooch Behar
(Fig. 12). The upper side is conically narrowed district revealed that traditional fishing gears are
with four bamboo sticks tied with a net. During still prevalent in this era of civilization. The
fishing operation, the upper portion of the net is traditional as well as indigenous fishing gears
held in the hand whilst, the gear is kept thrusted of the district are Pala, Chalk, Tapai, Burung, Zakoi,
in the water. As soon as the fishes are located, Jhoka, Koncha or Teta and Shuli. Most of the
the upper portion of the net is dropped from the fishing gears are very simple and prepared by
hand to trap the fishes. Chalk is operated the local people and fishermen with the help of
throughout the year except monsoon months in locally available materials such as bamboo, rope,
rivers and beels. nylon and cotton fibres. The diversity of fishing
Tapai gears of the district indicated the creativity of the
Tapai is a rectangular fish trap made of bamboo fishermen.
stick interwoven by nylon threads (Fig. 13). The trap Among the 22 fishing gears, 7 are operated at all
fishing works on the principle of allowing fishes seasons, 9 are operated at all seasons except monsoon
to enter the trap and then preventing their months whilst, 6 fishing gears are operated only
escape from the trap6. The dimension of the Tapai during monsoon months of the year. Fishing gears
varies as per the need. However, the standard size which are operated at all seasons of a year are
is 0.50 m-1.5m in length, 0.30 m-0.40 m width Cast net, Gill net, Drag net, Push net, Stationary lift
and 0.10 m-0.2 m height. The gear having two net, Hook and line and Koncha or Teta. Fishing
sides has 2-7 doors on each side. The entrance or gears which are operated at all seasons except monsoon
doors are of very specialized structure and works as months are Cloth net, Khatal, Bamboo piece, Harrka,
624 INDIAN J TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE, VOL. 13, NO. 3, JULY 2014

Fig. 1- Cast net, Fig. 2- Gill net, Fig. 3- Lift net, Fig. 4- Drag net, Fig. 5- Push net, Fig. 6- Stationary lift net, Fig. 7-Koncha or Teta,
Fig. 8- Shuli, Fig. 9- Zakoi, Fig.10-Pala, Fig. 11- Jhoka, Fig. 12- Chalk, Fig. 13-Tapai, Fig. 14-Burung.
DAS & BARAT: FISHING GEARS OF COOCH BEHAR DISTRICT, WEST BENGAL, INDIA 625

Shuli, Zakoi, Pala, Chalk and Electro-fishing. On the Conclusion


other hand, Lift net, Seine net, Barsha, Tapai ,Jhoka With the enhancement of technology in the
and Burung are operated only during monsoon fabrication of fishing gears, it is felt that the
months. Fishing gears of highest number are operated indigenous fishing gears should be upgraded for
at all seasons except monsoon whereas the lowest better efficiency of fish harvesting and also for
numbers during monsoon periods of a year. From this the durability of the gears. The mesh size should
data it can be concluded, that three fishing periods are be greater than a centimetre for conservation of
throughout the year, throughout the year except ichthyofauna diversity in both lentic and lotic
monsoon and only monsoon. Lowest level of fishing water bodies of Cooch Behar district. Finally, as
gears being operated during monsoon is due to the mentioned earlier, fishing during closed season
breeding season of the fishes. should be strictly prohibited and awareness
Indiscriminate use of different fishing nets campaigns should be undertaken for maintaining
specially Gill net, Push Net, Drag net, Stationary an eco-friendly environment.
lift net are responsible for rapid decline in fish
population in different beels, ponds and rivers of Acknowledgement
Cooch Behar district. Most of the fishing nets Authors are grateful to Shri Narendra Nath Das, a
have very small mesh size which is detrimental to prominent senior citizen amongst the fishermen
the fishery resources of the district as also reported community, village Ambari, Cooch Behar, West
in Hooghly-Matlah estuary in West Bengal7. As a Bengal, and other local fish farmers for providing
result, a large number of fishes of all sizes are various information on the operation of different
captured which ultimately deplete the fish diversity. fishing gears.
Among the different nets, Push net and Drag net
are the most dangerous which have mesh size less
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