Giant eels fished out

Weekender
ENVIRONMENT
Wapiri the eel catcher (middle) and fellow fishermen with an eel caught in Tanguwe River.

By JACK NOAH YAMAHA
THE famous East Pangia Forest Management Area which is tangled up in controversy since 1994 may be better known for its timber resource.
However, there’s something else you should know about this untouched pristine environment. And that is what teems in its cool rivers and streams.
In June 2011 the then Department of Environment and Conservation dispatched an environment impact study team which is the final step before a developer goes in and begin forest harvesting. The team was headed by a local environmentalist Susan Yakip. After that the supposed developer Madang Timbers failed its obligations and the project now went back to the drawing board again.
The area demarcated for forests harvesting is 100,400 hectares that borders Chimbu and Western Highlands. The Kaugel River also flows through it and cuts through Karimui District of Chimbu and parts of Western Highland’s Lower Kaugel area.

Exotic fish species
Rivers and streams in the forest management area, have been overtaken by two unknown types of fish that physically resemble the freshwater trout. Locals are baffled trying to establish what these species are and where they originated from.
Since the first sightings in 2002 in certain rivers, the fish had multiplied rapidly in the last 18 years, infesting every river-system, stream and creek in area.
However, adventurous locals go diving both day and night for their protein, which has since been given top ratings. The fish is now a much sought-after delicacy, a constant presence on dinner plates, or village markets throughout the area.

Foxy Mathew with a catch of wailo from Longio River near Muru valley.

The locals call them walio and kondis; the former is scale-less and the latter has scales. Kondis can swim faster than any other kind of fish while wailo can fly over rapids and boulders with the help of flippers. The mature female carries up to 1,000 eggs at any one time.
Fishmongers go out both day and night with their diving gear, torches and spear guns to catch them in large numbers. Another method that is becoming quite popular is beating together certain kinds of leaves and squeezing the juice into the river. The juice acts as a stunner when it diffuses into the running water, weakening the fish to float up to the surface when they are scooped up.

Giant eels
On the other hand, talented young guns go beyond traditional boundaries in eel catching techniques with their new found styles and ideas.
A few young boys can hold their breath for lengthy periods whilst exploring the floors and walls of the huge scary riverine caves in their quest to spot huge eels.
These no-nonsense eel hunters won’t miss catching extremely rare eels which have ever been seen in the area before. Diving and hunting for eels is not easy when it come to exploring extremely dangerous sections of the river.
Wapiri Koyapo from Alia village has special eel killing skills and is known locally as the ‘mastermind’ in catching huge eels. His team of divers have managed to kill eight such large eels on one fishing day recently.
Wapiri has been hired by landowners to dive for eels in their rivers which others are scared to dive in.
And as it is now parts of the river systems that have been out of bounds and unexplored before are favourite fishing grounds.
And the big eel population is declining because of the daring techniques of Wapiri and his team.

  • Jack Yamaha is a freelance media advisor.

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