Thursday, February 28, 2013

Foster Tilapia, Kill Lake Yojoa

 Lake Yojoa is an amazing, beautiful natural wonder located on the road between Honduras' two largest cities, San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. Located in the midst of mountain peaks, with hundreds of species of birds reported, it has long been a destination for Hondurans traveling the road, who stop at roadside fish restaurants. The name on the menu, if not the fish on the plate, was always bass. The lake was stocked with black bass back in the 1960s by the Tela Railroad Company, sparking a sport fishing industry that attracted fishermen from all over the world, especially the United States.

But Lake Yojoa has not fared well from the Honduran government.

A recent decision by the Dirección General de Pesca y Acuicultura, DIGEPESCA, to add 500,000 minnows of Tilapia to Lake Yojoa is among the most stupid and damaging things that could possibly be done to the lake. DIGEPESCA had a choice of any number of fish varieties to add to the lake. They picked a terrible, environmentally destructive fish.

Tilapia already exist in the lake. Tilapia were supposed to be farmed on the lake edge and in streams, but escaped into the lake, overpopulating it, reducing the oxygen available.

The black bass population decreased, as did the size of bass remaining in the lake, decimating the sport fishing industry and making it difficult for the Lake Yojoa area restaurants to obtain the famous black bass that drew in the crowds. 

No one comes to eat fried tilapia

Black bass, although also introduced, were not destructive of the lake environment the way tilapia are. Studies in 2008 found that tilapia farms were the major cause of pollution of the lake.  In particular the fish feces was found to promote algae growth. It also makes the lake smell bad. 

Today the lake is full of algae, a direct result of tilapia excrement, and red and black tilapia in abundance. To this overpopulated lake, DIGEPESCA will add 500,000 minnows of tilapia. 

The good news is that these will be devoured by the existing fish so in effect, DIGEPESCA will be supplying dinner for the existing fish supply, not introducing a new commercial fish.

In 2008 Donard Reyes condemned the government for fostering the destructive shift to tilapia:
The government has weighed in a balance, we can have the beauty of lake Yojoa or we can export tilapia, because undoubtedly, the cages that produce the tilapia, generate a good economic return for the state.

Black bass, and the international fisherman who prized them, are not the only victims of bad decision-making here.

The algae, low water, water hyacinths, and low oxygenation has greatly diminished the diversity of species of birds and animals found in and around the lake.

SERNA, the ministry responsible for the environment was trying in 2010 to restore some balance to the lake by removing water hyacinths and restricting agricultural runoff into the lake.

There was even talk of removing the existing tilapia farms in the lake to try and reduce the contaminants.

DIGPESCA, however, belongs to the Secretaria de Agricultura y Ganado, not SERNA, and appears to be unconcerned about working against another minisry. 

Nor is there any concern apparent about the impact on the work of Hondulago and Amuprolago, NGOs working to provide water treatment for communities dumping wastewater into the lake.

So much for the tourism industry around the lake.  It, like the lake, will die of government stupidity.

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