Hundreds of fish were dying in Baram River

The Borneo Resources Institute Malaysia (Brimas) is shocked with another wave of mysterious death of fish in Sarawak. Over the last few days, hundreds of fish were found dying in Baram River, particularly around the Kuala Baram area.
Brimas officers have conducted field visits and investigations in the area and were surprised to see several species of freshwater fish dying in the river. The fish species that were found dying are locally known as Ikan Baung, Ikan Burih, Ikan Tapah, Ikan Padi to mention a few.
Also found dying were various types of prawns. Through our observation, most of the fish seemed weak, tired and having difficulty in breathing. As a result, the fish surfaced for air but after sometime suffocated to death. Also, the fish appeared blind.
Our officers have conducted site examinations on some of the dead fishes, particularly checking their gills. Brimas found that the gills of the fishes were not clogged with mud or blocked by silt. The stomach or intestines of the dead fish did not contain mud but seemed watery.
Regarding the condition of the Baram River, Brimas officers noticed that the water was murky. According to some local villagers at the Kuala Baram area, they have not seen any difference in the water as over the past years, the river has always being brownish, muddy and polluted with silt due to logging, oil palm plantations and industrial development activities.
Brimas has collected some water samples from Baram River for further investigation and necessary action.
Brimas is concerned with the safety of villages and members of longhouse communities along the Baram River. These people are exposed to danger and environmental disaster as they entirely depend on Baram River for their daily livelihood.
Brimas has seen these people scooping up the floating fish as well as collecting the dying fishes in Kuala Baram. It is alarming to note that these fish were sold at the local markets around Miri here. Innocent members of public could have bought and consumed these fishes and prawns unaware of the possible health risks.
Brimas is appalled with this reoccurrence of the large-scale dying of fish in Sarawak rivers. It seems that major rivers throughout the state are affected by this mysterious phenomenon. This seems like a wave of destructive incidents affecting all of our rivers.
These series of mysterious death of fishes had occurred twice in the Bakun dam project area in Belaga, then in Balleh and last week it was at the Mukah River.
With this new incident at Kuala Baram, based on our site investigations and observations, Brimas has identified the possible source and culprits that cause these incidents. However, Brimas would rather not pinpoint the culprits now but allow the relevant authorities to carry their investigations independently.
Brimas urges the Natural Resources and Environment Board (NREB) to conduct thorough investigations to find out the cause of the death of these fishes. Their reports must be made public as the nature of this mysterious phenomenon is of public interest and concern.
Brimas also supports the NREB in taking whatever action in enforcing the law against the culprits or responsible parties so that these incidents will not recur in the future.
The writer is programme officer, Brimas (Borneo Resources Institute)