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Mysterious causes for massive amount of dead fish in Iraq

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For centuries, civilisations in southern Iraq have made a living from farming and fishing the whiskered, carp-like fish native to the twin Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

But this year, thousands of tonnes of fish floated up to the surface of the wetland — dead.

The causes of the mass premature deaths remain unclear, but marsh-based fishermen have some theories.


It’s not Iraq’s first riverine disaster: In 2018, fish farmers alleged their stocks were poisoned after millions of carp died.


In March 2019, a United Nations probe put the cause down to the Koi Herpes Virus, saying overstocking and low-quality river water likely furthered its spread.

This year, a preliminary study by the agriculture ministry ruled out any viral or bacterial cause, so allegations of foul play are again floating to the surface.

Furious locals accuse both federal and provincial authorities of failing to secure the marshes.

One speculative theory swirling among Iraqis is that Turkish and Iranian companies that usually import seafood stocks into Iraq had paid people to deliberately poison the marshes or disrupt water flows.

The alleged motive? Concerns that Iraqi consumers were opting for increasingly cheap barbels, squeezing the imported seafood out of the market.

Barbels are typically sold to neighbouring Gulf countries but this year, with borders closed for months due to COVID-19, the whiskered fish flooded local markets.

Iraqis have opted for these affordable domestic catches, stacked high in wooden stalls, instead of imported fish.


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