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Updated December 22nd, 2023 at 11:58 IST

Assam: Rare snakehead fish valued at Rs 4.5 crore seized

This snakehead fish has a high ornamental value among specialized aquarists in both domestic and foreign markets.

Anirudha Bhakat
Channa Barca: Rare snakehead fish seized
Channa Barca: Rare snakehead fish seized | Image:Instagram
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Over 700 'Channa Barca' fish worth a staggering Rs 4.5 crore were intercepted by Assam forest department officers on Thursday while they were being smuggled to Kolkata from Dibrugarh airport, according to a forest official. Following a tip, forest officials confiscated the shipment of the critically endangered "Cheng garka" fish and detained the driver of the car that had transported it to the airport, according to Divisional Forest Officer BV Sandeep.

The "Channa Barca" fish is classified as protected under Schedule 2 of the Wildlife Protection Act. This particular species of snakehead fish is unique to the Upper Brahmaputra river basin, which is located in Bangladesh and northeastern India. Informing about the seizure, Assam Chief Minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma wrote on Twitter, "In a successful anti-smuggling operation carried out by @assamforest- 500 Channa Barca fishes have been seized at Dibrugarh Airport. These rare species of fish are valued at ₹4.5 crore in the international market & is one of the biggest exotic fish seizures in recent times." Range officer Pankaj Bora has informed that the investigation is still on and they are examining the seizure. “We are examining the confiscated fish. There are approximately 700 fishes identified as Channa Barca. They were caught in Tinsukia district as per the accused who have been nabbed.” 

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Barca Snakehead Fish: Origin and History

The fish known locally as "Pipli Cheng" or "Cheng Garaka" is the uncommon species of snakehead fish known as Channa barca, or Barca snakehead fish, which is unique to the upper Brahmaputra river basin in northeastern India and Bangladesh. It was initially reported in 1822 by the Scottish surgeon Francis Hamilton, who, while residing in India, made important contributions to the fields of zoology and other sciences. His description is that it was Ophiocephalus barca, (now in the genus Channa), originally observed in the Brahmaputra river in the vicinity of Golpara, Assam. Its current range is centered on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra river, in and near the Orang National Park. It was never mass-collected and is now a rare ornamental fish.

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Snakehead Fish: Huge Ornamental Value

This snakehead fish has a high ornamental value among specialized aquarists in both domestic and foreign markets, in addition to its pleasing appearance. It is one of the priciest fish in the world today since it is so scarce and limited to a specific area of the Brahmaputra basin. Over time, its value has increased dramatically. 

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The seizure made on Thursday also raises concern as it was being smuggled by air. Forest officials also suspect the involvement of some international racket behind this smuggling network. The fish in Bangladesh was listed as severely endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2014. Forest Officer Sandeep said the fish that were taken in would be put back into the river.

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Published December 22nd, 2023 at 09:13 IST

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