Thousands of dead fishes were found floating in Sungai Bernam today, believed to have been caused by pollution.
Photos: Rosman Shamsudin and Suara Perak

Malaysia: Thousands of dead fishes wash up in Sungai Bernam
By Rosman Shamsudin, 10th November 2016;

Thousands of dead fishes were found floating in Sungai Bernam today, believed to have been caused by pollution.

Sungai Selisik village head Ishak Ahmad, 50, said the discovery was made by residents as they were about to go fishing at the river, located near the Selangor border.

He said a report was lodged with the Perak Fisheries Department to be forwarded to the Department of Environment.

“The irresponsible act of some quarters had polluted the river, killing the fishes along the way.

"Cases such as this will affect the locals’ livelihood as their earnings depend on the catch from the river. This issue must be dealt with seriously and the culprits must be brought to book,” he told Berita Harian.

Ishak also expressed concern for the well-being of thousands of residents in the area as the river is a source of raw water for six villages there.

A Fisheries Department spokesman confirmed the report.

“Instructions have been issued to our officials at the Batang Padang district office to carry out an investigation,” he said.

It is learnt that the officers from the department’s Tapah district office are carrying out tests on the water sample taken near Behrang.

Source: New Straits Times

The dead fishes in the first photo appear to be mostly Tinfoil Barb (Barbonymus schwanenfeldii), with one unidentified cyprinid; the dead fishes in the photos from Suara Perak include a Common Carp (Cyrpinus carpio).

  • Farmers remove thousands of dead fish from floating cages in the Lake Toba town of Haranggaol in May 2016. The fish died overnight from a lack of oxygen in the water.
  • The lake’s fishing industry lost more than 1,500 tons of Carp (Cyprinus carpio) and Tilapia (Oreochromis sp.) in the fish kill.
  • The mass fish kill took days to clean up. More than 100 Lake Toba fish farmers lost their entire stock, costing them thousands of dollars.

Photos: Binsar Bakkara

Photo Essay: How Pollution Is Devastating an Indonesian Lake
Uncontrolled fish farming, population growth, and logging have all taken a toll on Indonesia’s Lake Toba. Photographer Binsar Bakkara returns to his home region to chronicle the environmental destruction.
By Binsar Bakkara, 26th October 2016;

More than 1,500 tons of fish suddenly turned up dead in Indonesia’s largest lake earlier this year, a mass asphyxiation from a lack of oxygen in the water caused by high pollution levels. The event threatened the livelihoods of hundreds of fish farmers and the drinking water for thousands of people, and it shed light on the rapidly declining conditions in Lake Toba, the largest volcanic lake in the world.

Population growth, development, deforestation, and a booming caged fishing industry have severely degraded the lake’s water quality over the last two decades, scientists say. There are now 12,000 cages in the lake, each containing upwards of 10,000 fish, which is double or triple their capacities. Agricultural fertilizers, sewage, and most prominently, fish food have increased the levels of phosphorous in the lake three-fold since 2012, according to a government report. The lake, located in the northern part of Sumatra, is classified as either eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic, meaning it has excessive nutrients that can create dead zones with low oxygen levels.

Photographer Binsar Bakkara grew up on the shores of Lake Toba. While a kid in the 1980s and 1990s, “the clarity level of the water in the lake was very good,” Bakkara says. “Objects at 5-7 meters in depth could be seen clearly. But nowadays, it’s almost impossible to see any objects 2 meters deep because of the murky water.” When he heard news of the fish kill, Bakkara headed back to the lake to document the pollution.

Source: Yale Environment 360

  1. Dead fish are seen around Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) in Haranggaol. The plants are a sign of excess nutrients in the water system.
    Photo: Aria Danaparamita
  2. Dead fish in one of the Haranggaol’s floating net cages in May.
    Photo: Ayat S. Karokaro/Mongabay

Indonesia: Why did millions of fish turn up dead in Indonesia’s giant Lake Toba?
A village of aquafarmers grapples with the aftermath of a mass fish death that nearly killed the local economy. Is it too late to prevent a repeat of the catastrophe from occurring?
By Aria Danaparamita, 30th August 2016;

  • In May, millions of fish died suddenly in the Haranggaol Bay of Lake Toba, Indonesia’s largest lake. Scientists chalked it up to a sudden depletion of oxygen in the water, the result of a buildup of pollutants in the lake, unfavorable weather conditions and unsustainable practices by local aquafarmers.
  • The local economy was badly shaken by the incident. Most residents of Haranggaol village rely on the fish farms as their only dependable source of income. Many villagers have had to go into debt to keep their businesses from collapsing.
  • Haranggaol residents have since tried to modify their practices to prevent another die-off, but without the resources and know-how of the lake’s corporate aquafarmers, they have had a difficult time.
  • Meanwhile, the government has big plans for Lake Toba as a tourist destination along the lines of a “Monaco of Asia” — one that might not include the unsightly fish farms.

On the morning of May 4, the fish farmers of Haranggaol were waking up to feed the Tilapia (Oreochromis sp.) and Carp (Cyprinus carpio) they raise in floating cages here on Indonesia’s Lake Toba. But when they got to the shore, the lake was gleaming white with fish carcasses.

“We were going to feed them, but the fish already died,” 39-year-old Mariando Nainggulan told Mongabay one recent evening in the village, home to 3,200 people.

Mariando, one of Haranggaol’s biggest aquafarmers, said he lost over 1 billion rupiah ($75,000) and had to borrow that amount from a bank to keep his business afloat. “It was sudden,” he said. “Of course I was sad. And of course I was confused.”

An estimated 1,500 tons of Tilapia and Carp perished in the first mass fish death to hit Toba, Indonesia’s largest lake, since 2004, when its Carp stock was demolished by the koi herpes virus.

This time, researchers pinned the blame on a depletion of oxygen in the water, brought on primarily by an excess of sewage, detergents, fertilizer — and fish feed. Met with overcrowded fish cages and unfavorable weather, the conditions became fatal.

It wasn’t the country’s first mass fish asphyxiation — notable incidents have occurred in West Sumatra’s Lake Maninjau and in the reservoirs of West Java — but it was the first time it happened in Lake Toba, according to a government agency that analyzed the Haranggaol incident.

Scientists have long warned that pollution in the lake is reaching untenable levels — and the Haranggaol fish kill may be the canary in the coal mine.

Surrounded by scenic mountains in North Sumatra province, Lake Toba was once a booming tourist destination. Formed by a volcanic caldera, the lake drew domestic and foreign visitors with its clear water.

But in the last two decades, tourism has slowed to a trickle, and even locals say that water in parts of the lake is no longer fit for drinking or swimming.

A damaged lake

In 2014, Bogor Agricultural University researchers classified the lake as eutrophic, meaning it had become excessively rich in nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus — and prone to oxygen-devouring algal blooms. The Environment and Forestry Ministry’s inquiry into the May fish kill found that the lake’s phosphorus content had tripled since 2012.

The nutrient loading was worst near the floating cages, where large amounts of fish feed containing phosphorus, an essential element for fish growth, are daily dropped into the lake.

“Aquaculture shouldn’t be solely blamed for lake pollution,” Josh Oakley, an environmental specialist who studied the lake’s carrying capacity for aquaculture production, told Mongabay. Pollutants come from a variety of sources, such as agricultural runoff and sewage from houses and hotels.

Still, “The uncontrolled rising number of floating cages has caused grave environmental problems,” the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) concluded in a report about the fish kill. “The number keeps rising, and is thought to have far exceeded the ecosystem’s carrying capacity.”

The 1,130-square-kilometer Lake Toba produces an estimated 76,000 metric tons of aquaculture products a year, much of it from local farmers. Two companies — Swiss-owned PT Aquafarm Nusantara and PT Suri Tani Pemuka, an arm of the Singapore-listed Japfa Group — also cultivate Tilapia on the lake and export fillets internationally, including to the U.S. and Europe.

PT Aquafarm — responsible for 40,000 tons of production in 2015 — has come under fire for introducing waste into the lake.

Haranggaol, the lake’s second-largest source of farmed fish, has also been criticized for pollution. Where in 2005 the village had 854 floating pens, today there are over 6,000. But that explosion, while a boon to the local economy, has come at a cost.

Sitting on an inlet ringed by steep hills on the lake’s northeastern edge, Haranggaol Bay is dominated by vast rows of steel-framed net cages across its 3-square-kilometer surface.

The bay’s small size and relatively calm waters means it particularly struggles to absorb all the effluents it receives. In a paper for the University of Rhode Island, Oakley determined its phosphorus concentration to be an average total of 110 milligrams per cubic meter, placing the bay “well beyond hyper-eutrophic status.”

The presence of domestic wastewater alone, he found, made it impossible for the bay to return to a preferred oligotrophic state, in which the water is low in nutrients and high in oxygen.

To achieve the next best thing — a mesotrophic condition — Haranggaol would need to drastically cut its fish production to only 20.12 tons per year, Oakley wrote. That’s a sharp cut from the estimated 27,000 tons it currently produces. Oakley notes that adopting more sustainable practices can help raise that production capacity. But even with the most optimal practices, Haranggaol would still only be able to farm 51.85 tons per year, he wrote.

Meanwhile, the environment ministry in Jakarta has called for a 44 percent cut in aquaculture production lakewide.

A military crackdown

The government has long struggled to curb the rise of unregulated community fish farms. A 2014 presidential edict stipulated that aquaculture would only be allowed in one district: Toba Samosir.

The campaign against fish farming ramped up in recent months after President Joko Widodo announced a plan to turn Toba — dubbed the “Monaco of Asia” — into a major tourist destination.

Local governments have wasted no time in carrying out the mandate. In late July, Simalungun district — which also covers Haranggaol — dispatched military and police officers to dismantle cages in Sualan village, about 70 kilometers south of Haranggaol.

After pleas from local fish farmers, the government agreed to postpone the eviction. Instead, the seven districts on the lake and the provincial government agreed on new zoning regulations, while asking the farmers to adhere to stricter environmental standards.

“Not zero — there are zones where they will be allowed so it is safe for the environment,” Mixnon Andreas Simamora, head of Simalungun’s development agency, told Mongabay.

Haranggaol is included as a fish farming zone. Still, news of the military operation in Sualan sent waves of panic to the village.

That, on top of the mass death, led the Haranggaol fish farmers to worry about what their future would look like.

A village of fish farmers

Haranggaol, a four-drive drive from Sumatra’s largest city, Medan, turned to fish farming in the 1980s after a virus wiped out its previous crops: onions and garlic.

“Haranggaol was threatened with starvation. Some wise people tried to farm fish,” said Hasudungan Siallagan, 45, head of the local fish farmers’ association.

Now, Hasudungan said, about 80 percent of the village relies on fish farming. “That includes laborers: net workers, delivery workers, they all live from the cages.”

For many of the villagers who don’t own land to farm, fish farming is currently their only dependable source of income. Many fund their businesses by taking out bank loans. Losing or severely reducing aquaculture would not only disrupt the families’ income — it would leave them under massive debt.

After the die-off, the farmers were forced to halt fish deliveries to local markets, and did not put in new crop for a month. Villagers rented trucks and machinery and banded together to bury the fish in a hillside mass grave.

In addition to the economic shock, the mass death forced Haranggaol’s fish farmers to reconsider the environmental impacts of their practices.

“The farmers don’t know good aquaculture techniques. We didn’t even know the carrying capacity per meter,” Hasudungan said, explaining that they mostly learned through trial and error.

After the fish kill, the villagers scrambled to find solutions to prevent another disaster.

“After the incident, we began to correct our practices,” Mariando said. “We rearranged the cages. Then we reduced the number of fish in the cages. We don’t put in 15,000 per cage anymore — just around 5,000 each cage. And the effect is visible: fish death has been significantly reduced.”

Yet to have any real impact on restoring the water quality, the farmers need to do a lot more than that.

‘Of course I’m worried’

It’s not just local farmers feeling the pressure to be more environmentally conscious. PT Suri Tani Pemuka, which also operates farming sites in Simalungun district, is experimenting with new cleaning technology.

The company began farming fish in the lake in 2012 and produced around 4,000 tons of fish in 2015.

Since last year, it has imported 12 “lift-up” cleaning systems from Norway to vacuum waste and dead fish from the net bottoms. The company also uses broadcaster machines that shoot out feed at a pre-programmed rate to reduce the amount of wasted pellets. And it’s working to reduce the phosphorus content of the Comfeed brand of pellets it produces, which is also sold to farmers.

“We do this because what is good for the environment is good for fish, and what is good for fish is good for the company,” Jenny Budiati, the company’s head of seafood processing, told Mongabay.

But although such innovations might be promising, local farmers who can’t afford Norwegian machinery are unlikely to replicate them in their own makeshift cages.

In his paper, Oakley outlined that certain practices could help increase Haranggaol’s carrying capacity. This includes placing the cages further offshore, where the water is deeper and currents can help maintain a healthier flow of oxygen and disperse waste. Farmers could also select feed that contains less phosphorus and ensure that fewer pellets are wasted.

In mid-August, PT Suri Tani Pemuka representatives held a workshop in Haranggaol on feeding practices and cage maintenance. But economic constraints are making it difficult for the Haranggaol farmers to make changes, even something as simple as switching to floating pellets with low phosphorus content since those cost more.

Since the mass death in May, the villagers have reorganized their previously haphazardly laid-out cages. Now the cages are arranged in lines, with some extending further offshore than before. That move alone cost the villagers the money they had saved to fix potholed roads in the village.

The Haranggaol farmers said they haven’t been told of any concrete plans from the government to help or incentivize local farmers to make their cages more sustainable.

“What does ‘environmentally friendly’ mean? What does that look like?” Hasudungan asked. “They have offered no solutions.”

Then again, improving fish farming is only one part of the solution. Haranggaol — and the lake region at large — must figure out better ways to treat pollutants from other sources.

Meanwhile, the question looms of whether Haranggaol’s pollution is so dire that large-scale fish farming simply can’t coexist with Lake Toba’s tourism dreams even with the most sustainable practices, as Oakley’s modelling suggests.

And while sustainability remains an elusive aim, Mariando says he has to think far more short-term: the two-month-old fish he’s currently growing in his nets.

“Of course I’m worried,” he said of continuing to farm in the wake of the die-off. “I’m waiting to harvest by the new year. Hopefully.”

Source: Mongabay

Photo: Ganug Adi Nugroho

Indonesia: Farmers suffer losses as fish die
25th August 2016;

Tens of thousands of fish in fishing cages in the Kedungombo Resevoir in Sumberlawang, Sragen, Central Java, have died in the past two days, apparently due to extreme weather.

Fisherman Daryono Gundul confirmed that 15 to 25 tons of fish died in the past few days, leaving the fishermen with millions of rupiah in financial losses.

“Each fisherman may have suffered [losses of] millions of rupiah depending on the differences in the number of dead fish,” he added.

He said the Mitra Tani cooperative suffered the biggest financial loss as its operator was late to pull out the fishing cage.

Ngargotirto village head Daryono said the significant loss of fish in Kedungombo was an annual phenomenon. Strong wind disturbed the water, making the sediment in the bottom of the reservoir rise, thus poisoning the fish, he added.

“The muddy water means a lack of oxygen for the fish. They will also get poisoned by food residue from the sediment,” Daryono said.

He said some fish farmers managed to save their fish by pulling their cages out of the water in time.

At least 500 fish cages had been pulled out of the water. Other fish farmers used air pumps to circulate oxygen into the water to help the fish survive the poisoning.

“The moment I saw numerous dead fish, I immediately pulled out the fish cages to prevent any more from dying,” he said.

Source: Jakarta Post

Thousands of dead farmed fish are collected in Kedungombo Dam in Central Java. Fish farmers believe the cause was extreme weather that made sedimentation and fish feed residue rise from the bottom of the dam.
Photo: Ganug Adi Nugroho

Indonesia: Tens of thousands fish die in Kedungombo
By Ganug Nugroho Adi, 24th August 2016;

Thousands of Red Tilapia (Oreochromis sp.) and Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio) in bamboo cages belonging to fish farmers at Kedungombo Dam, Sragen, Central Java, have died over the past two days.

The farmers suspect extreme weather was the cause.

Daryono Gundul, one fish cage owner, said the most of the dead fish were found in Ngasinan village. In the past two days, 15 to 25 tons of fish died had each day.

“Each farmer has suffered different levels of loss, starting from hundreds of thousands of rupiah to tens of millions of rupiah,” Daryono said.

Mitra Tani suffered the biggest loss, he said, because the owner moved his aquaculture cages too late.

Ngargotirto village head, whose name is also Daryono, said every year in Kedungombo fish in aquaculture cages died. Change in weather caused fungus that killed the fish. He said the fungus came from the sedimentation and residue of fish feed, which rose from the bottom of the dam in extreme weather.

Besides moving the cages to edge of the dam, farmers also supplied oxygen by creating air circulation using pumps.

Another farmer, Suharno, said some of the dead fish were cut into pieces for feed while others were buried.

Suharno said there were 81 fish farmers with 1,600 cages in Ngasinan village alone. Each day the village produced 5 to 7 tons of fish per day to meet demand from Surakarta, Yogyakarta and Bali.

Source: Jakarta Post

  • A carpet of dead fish in one of the floating net cages in Lake Toba.
  • Masses of dead fish are hauled away in plastic bags.

Photos: Ayat S Karokaro/Mongabay, Mongabay-Indonesia

Indonesia: Millions of fish die suddenly in Indonesia’s giant Lake Toba
Cause of death: not yet clear.
By Ayat S. Karokaro, 11th May 2016;

  • Government researchers are analyzing samples from the lake and should have a prognosis soon.
  • Hundreds of local volunteers have set about clearing the water of fish carcasses, which they fear will harm the ecosystem if left to fester for long.
  • The die-off means huge losses for local farmers.

When the sun rose over Indonesia’s giant Lake Toba on Wednesday last week, fish farmers saw that death in the night had visited their floating cages, and taken everything.

By Friday, millions of Carp (Common Carp) (Cyprinus carpio) and Tilapia (Nile Tilapia) (Oreochromis niloticus) had risen lifeless to the surface — ruinous losses for the aquafarmers.

The cause of death is not yet confirmed: government researchers are still analyzing samples from the lake. But early signs point to a precipitous drop in the water’s supply of dissolved oxygen, the suspected result of both natural and manmade causes.

One cage owner said that a week before the die-off began, the fish in their crowded cages appeared increasingly limp, and could be seen gasping to the surface for air.

Now, hundreds of volunteers are using heavy equipment and plastic bags to haul the stinking carcasses onto land. A giant hole has been prepared for their burial.

Lake Toba occupies the vast caldera of an ancient supervolcano whose eruption some 75,000 years ago ranks as one of the most violent events in geological history.

Volcanic activity is not thought to have triggered the fish deaths, though.

Krismono, a professor who works for the government, pointed to unfavorable weather. A lack of sun had shortcircuited oxygen production in the lake’s turbid depths, he said. It was possible that a mass of the depleted water had set off the catastrophe by rising to the top.

Overstuffed cages exacerbated the situation. “Cages should only have 3,000-5,000 fish, but these cages had 10,000 fish,” Krismono said.

Locals had also complained about water pollution, with some blaming aquaculture companies for contaminating the lake with uneaten food pellets and fish waste.

But the cages in Haranggaol, one of North Sumatra province’s biggest fish producing areas, are owned by individual small farmers.

“We can go bankrupt because of this,” said Hasudungan, a local aquafarmer.

Source: Mongabay

Photos: Ahmad Ridwan Nasution on Beritagar

Indonesia: Fish cages blamed for dead fish, environmental damage
By Apriadi Gunawan and Syofiardi Bachyul Jb, 7th May 2016;

Tourists expecting to enjoy the beauty of Lake Toba over the long weekend may be disappointed as the lake has been contaminated by thousands tons of dead fish in the Haranggaol waters, Simalungun, North Sumatra.

In response, 1,000 people of Haranggaol sub-district joined together to remove the carcasses of Goldfish (likely Common Carp) (Cyprinus carpio) and Tilapia (ikan nila) (Nile Tilapia) (Oreochromis niloticus) from the lake on Friday.

Hasudungan Siallagan, a cage-culture fish farmer, said the locals were willing to clean Lake Toba because they wanted to prevent the dead animals from polluting the water, which could affect tourism and make the water unsafe for use by residents.

“Up to 820 tons of dead fish have been lifted from the fish cages in Lake Toba in the past two days. And today, 1,000 tons of dead fish will be lifted out,” Hasudungan told The Jakarta Post in Haranggaol on Friday, adding that 1000 tons of dead fish had been found as of Wednesday.

He added that about 116 cage-culture farmers in Haranggaol had reported that their fish were dead.

“We have been managing fish cages in Lake Toba for decades and this is for the first time we have seen the mass death of fish,” he said.

“All of the fish from two zones are reportedly dead, from a total of six zones of fish cages in Haranggaol. So, there are only four zones left and I haven’t got any news about that,” he said.

Hasudungan said the farmers had suffered billions of rupiah in losses because of the mass death of fish. He also said local government research into the incident had concluded that the cause of the mass death was lack of oxygen.

Head of the Simalungun district Agriculture and Fisheries Agency, Jarinsen Saragih, confirmed that the cause of the mass death of fish in Lake Toba was an oxygen shortage triggered by the postponed fish harvest.

“Lack of solar radiation since April 28 has also aggravated the oxygen shortage,” he told the Post on Friday.

Jarinsen dismissed speculations that the mass death of the fish was because of water pollution in Lake Toba, adding that “the dead fish were only found in the fish cages, not in the lake”.

Meanwhile, the local government of Agam district in West Sumatra plans to decrease half of floating net cages in Maninjau Lake in order to improve the ecosystem.

Head of Agam Maritime and Fisheries Affairs Agency, Ermanto, said that his team had recorded the number of floating net cages and instructed their owners to gradually reduce the amount in the lake.

“The lake water is heavily polluted. There is a lot of sediment from residual feed and tons of dead fish found every year. If left unchecked, fish will not be able to live inside the cages,” Ermanto told the Post recently.

According to the fisheries agency’s records, there are 16,964 fish cage swaths containing 4,000 minnows in the lake area of 99.5 kilometers. A total of 10,765 swaths are made of iron and 6,199 are made of bamboo.

Ermanto said he would regulate that all fish cages must be made of fiber and not iron, which can rust, or bamboo, which can decay.

Currently, there are 5,520 fish cages owned by 146 locals. Each of them own up to 250 cages. The local government plans to limit cage ownership to a maximum 20 fish cages per owner.

Source: Jakarta Post