Decision costs fish farmers hundreds of millions,

Kirkuk administration divided over Daquq fish farming ponds

A fish farmer during the emptying of a fish farm in Daquq, Kirkuk, 2022. Muhammad Almas

By Mohammed Almass in Kirkuk

The Kirkuk governorate administration is divided over the decision to fill and remove the fish farming ponds in Daquq southern district, while one of the government departments decided to suspend the campaign that will cost the owners of these ponds hundreds of millions of Iraqi dinars IQD, another department insists on implementing the decision, setting a time limit to empty the ponds.

According to (KirkukNow) investigations, the process of filling and removing fish ponds in Daquq district was suspended nearly two weeks ago, following protests organized by pond owners who do not yet know the fate of their projects.

"There are over 150,000 fish in our ponds that need another four months for their weight to reach about two and a half kilograms. If they implement the decision by next October, my losses will reach 50 million dinars (USD33,000)," said Abbas Muhammad, owner of three fish ponds in Daquq.

There are over 150,000 fish in our ponds that need another four months for their weight to reach about two and a half kilograms

A kilogram of fish in the market exceeds 6,000 IQD, but the decision to fill the ponds forced a number of owners of fish ponds to sell their production at a price less than 3,000IQD/KG as the pond owners were unable to market part of their fish due to their small sizes.

In Daquq district, according to (KirkukNow) follow-up, there are nearly 3,000 fish ponds that represent the livelihood of thousands of families, but the statistics of the Water Resources Department in Daquq indicate that only seven of them are licensed, which prompted the government to threaten to close them.

Daquq fish is famous for its special taste and salinity which made it very popular and demandable. Most of the restaurants and fish grills in most governorates of Iraq take advantage of the fame of Daquq fish to attract customers.

The Kirkuk Agriculture Directorate decided, in an official letter issued on August 28, 2023, signed by its director, Zuhair Ali, addressed to all agricultural departments and units, a copy of which (Kirkuk Now) obtained, to suspend the process of backfilling fish ponds that depend on well water, based on two letters, one of which was Issued by the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture on August 8, 2023.

The letter did not clarify whether the suspension of the campaign would be temporary or not.

However, a day after the Agriculture Directorate’s letter was issued, the Water Resources Directorate in Kirkuk stressed, in a letter it addressed to the Joint Operations Command, a copy obtained by KirkukNow, the implementation of the decision to demolish the fish ponds and set two different deadlines.

The letter stated that fish breeding ponds fed from water wells located within the irrigation boundaries of the Daquq Water Project will be given until October 15 to empty them before filling them, and this period will not be extended.

The Directorate also set in its letter a deadline of December 31, 2023 for fish breeding ponds that feed from wells located outside the irrigation boundaries of the water project.

Video: Protests of fish farmers in Daquq against the government’s decision to remove the ponds, Kirkuk August 16, 2023

Imad Rahmatullah, Director of the Water Resources Department in Daquq, told Kirkuk Now, “The decision to remove the fish breeding ponds has not been canceled and is still in effect,” noting that the pond owners have been given until next October to empty them.

“All fish pond owners have been notified of the decision not to fill their ponds, so it is better for them to stop the process of raising new fish, but some of them do not abide by the decision, so they were given a final deadline,” according to Rahmatullah.

A campaign to fill and remove fish ponds located in the Daquq Water Project was launched months ago. So far, 100 ponds have been removed, under the pretext of fears of water shortages and the repercussions of climate change. The campaign also includes ponds that depend on well water.

The decision to remove the fish breeding ponds has not been canceled and is still in effect

Daquq farmers buy small fish from the city of Hilla, the center of Babil Governorate, at a price ranging between 150-200 IQD and raise them in fish ponds. Three types of fish are raised in Daquq ponds: carp, silver and Glass. Carp fish is more popular than other types. Each dunum of land that is converted into fish ponds can accommodate 750 to 1,000 fish.

Sherzad Nawzad, owns two fish ponds in Daquq, each of which contains five thousand fish. “If they hasten the implementation of the decision and force me to sell it now, I will suffer losses amounting to 40 million dinars because the price of a kilogram of fish in normal times is six thousand dinars, but in this case will not exceed three thousand dinars.”

There is a great demand for Daquq fish, as the price of one kilogram in 2022 reached 11,000 IQD/KG, which is the highest during the past decade.

“Until now, we do not know whether the decision to demolish the ponds has been suspended or whether there is a deadline until October or the end of December,” Shirzad toldKirkuk Now.

The owners of the fish ponds called on the government in several occasions through (KirkukNow) to stop demolishing the ponds, and they organized several protest gatherings, the last of which was on August 16, where they prevented bulldozers and excavators from filling the ponds.

The Vice Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, Shakhwan Abdullah, and the Representative, Dylan Ghafour, both Kurds from Kirkuk, were both present. They referred to the “decision to temporarily suspend the campaign” as a personal achievement.

The decision to fill and remove fish ponds and farms was issued by the Iraqi Council of Ministers for a number of governorates, including Kirkuk, but the implementation of the decision was postponed several times.

The decision comes within the framework of measures taken by the Ministries of Agriculture and Water Resources in coordination with the Army Joint Operations Command to remove unlicensed ponds and farms due to “drought and water scarcity,” in addition to the consumption of electricity and groundwater.

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