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Fish Death: Perils of Farming on a Volcanic Lake

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INDONESIA - 15,000 fish farms that lie on the rim of an Indonesian volcano-lake are being affected by recent volcanic activity. Officials now believe that 7,000 tonnes of fish have died as a consequence.

Sulphur poisoning from volcanic activity is believed to be responsible for the deaths of some 7,000 tonnes of fish found in West Sumatra’s scenic Maninjau Lake in the past two days, a provincial official told the Jakarta Globe earlier this week;

Kurniawan Syah Putra, chief of the Tanjung Pura subdistrict that encompasses the lake, said that authorities and locals began gathering up floating dead fish on Monday. “It reached 1,588 tonnes of fish on Monday, but today may be the peak, as we predict the [cumulative] total could reach up to 7,000 tonnes,” Kurniawan said.

The 99.5-square-kilometer Maninjau is a volcanic crater lake in Agam district. The lake, which has a depth of close to 500 meters, is known for its mountain-rimmed panorama and has become one of West Sumatra’s famous tourist destinations. Kurniawan said dead fish had been spotted in the lake since Dec. 24, but authorities were not able to immediately confirm that volcanic activity was behind the mass deaths.

He said that some 15,000 fish farms in eight villages on the rim of the lake were affected by what was believed to be contaminated water. He said local residents were looking at about Rp 112 billion ($8.6 million) in losses, based on the assumption of a selling price of Rp 16,000 ($ 1.48) per kilogram of fish. “It is a very great loss for the fishermen; some of them have lost about Rp 1 billion because of this,” Kurniawan said, adding that all the fish were lost in three of the eight affected villages.

Yosmeri, who heads the West Sumatra Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Agency, said the mass deaths were caused by an upwelling, with sulphur-rich colder water from the bottom rising to the surface due to a drastic weather change. He said the fish perished from sulphur poisoning and that his office also detected a small amount of ammonia, “which is not supposed to exist under normal conditions.” Yosmeri said steps were taken to prevent further losses, including moving the remaining fish from the farms to uncontaminated fishponds.

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