A team of experts from various institutions responsible for marine life has begun an investigation into the cause of the sudden death of fish in different water bodies in Northern Province.
Thousands of fish over the weekend was suddenly found dead and floating on River Mugara and River Mukungwa as well as three ponds ran by farmers in Muko Sector of Musanze District.
In the morning of Friday, September 21, COOPIBEFAMU, a cooperative in Muko Sector, woke up to an appalling sight where all tilapia fish grown in its three ponds, were afloat lifeless.
Speaking to The New Times, Edouard Bendantunguka, the accountant of the cooperative and one of its members, said the loss incurred is estimated at Rwf4.8 million.
The ponds draw water from Mugara River whose source is in Musanze town, while Mugara is a tributary of River Mukungwa.
A preliminary report by Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) staff from the Northern agriculture zone shows that the substances that contaminated Mukungwa could have come from Mugara, adding that they had noticed complete destruction of the fish’s internal organs.
The outer shell of the dead fish was also found with an “oily substance”.
“Some of the dead fish had been collected by residents by the time we arrived at the ponds, but we seized all of it from them and have buried it to ensure no one is contaminated by whatever killed the fish,” Bendantunguka told The New Times on Sunday.
“This is very worrying, all the fish we kept in our ponds have been decimated. Indeed, to carry on with our fish business, we will start from the scratch,” he lamented.
The preliminary findings suggest that water in both rivers was contaminated, but, it did not reveal the type of the toxic substance in question.
Speaking to The New Times, Dr Solange Uwituze, the Deputy Director General of Animal Research and Technology Transfer at RAB, said that, usually, such cases are caused by lack of dissolved oxygen in water which causes fish to die by asphixy.
“That’s why water and fish samples were taken from the affected areas by a multidisciplinary team and it will be tested in laboratory to determine the exact cause. Findings will be communicated in due course,” Uwituze said.
Uwituze said that the only privately owned fish ponds which were affected are those belonging to the farmers in Muko, while all other fish, mainly carps and clarias, naturally grew in Mukungwa and Mugara rivers.
The vice mayor for finance and economic development in Musanze District, Augustin Ndabereye, said that this was a major blow since there was a lot of fish especially in Mukungwa but added that they were yet to ascertain the full extent of the damage caused.
“What we have done is to prohibit fishing activities at the river and the affected areas. We have also prohibited sale and consumption of the contaminated fish because it might be risky to people’s health,” he said.
No human death or sickness linked to the incident has so far been recorded, according to officials.
Bendantunguka said that they would seek compensation for the losses incurred. He, however, did not state from whom they would be seeking compensation.
“We will first clean the ponds to ensure that the subsequent stock is safe.”
Bendantunguka requested that government and other concerned institutions “put in place measures that will ensure environment protection, especially targeting aquatic life, so that we carry out sustainable fish farming without worrying for their safety.”
A communique issued by the Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI), Dr. Gérardine Mukeshimana, on Saturday urged members of the public to avoid polluting water bodies, and warned against consuming fish which died from unidentified causes.