Tens of tons of Daquq fish are sent daily to Baghdad and are sold at less than the market price due to the imminent implementation date of the decision to fill in and remove fish breeding ponds in the district, south of Kirkuk.
According to Kirkuk Now's observations, more than 60 carrying vehicles (capacity two tons) wait every day near the veterinary department in the center of Daquq district to obtain a permit letter to pass through the checkpoints.
“Daquq is very popular in the cities of Iraq, so we export 40 tons daily, especially to Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region,” Sherzad Nawzad, owner of a fish pond in Daquq, explained to (Kirkuk Now), after expressing his dissatisfaction with waiting for more than three hours a day to obtain licenses.
One kilogram of daquq fish is sold in the markets for more than 6,000 Iraqi dinars IQD (USD4) per kilogram, but due to the cost of transportation from the ponds to Baghdad, the price of one kilogram ranges between 4,000 to 4,500IQD, and some fish breeders are forced to sell it before it reaches the required size.
Burhan Ibrahim, a fish breeder, told KirkukNow, “Currently, we do not send fish to the cities of the Kurdistan Region, because customers there prefer fish that weigh more than two kilograms, so we ship them to Baghdad because of the imminent implementation date of a decision to fill our ponds.”
According to a letter from the Water Resources Directorate in Kirkuk, two different deadlines were set to begin the campaign to demolish fish ponds, one of which is October 15, 2023, and includes fish breeding ponds that feed from wells located within the irrigation boundaries, and the other deadline is until December 31, 2023, for fish breeding ponds that feed water to ponds from wells located outside the irrigation boundaries of the water project.
Video: Pond owners collect fish to put it in boxes for markets, Daquq, Kirkuk 2023. Mohammed Almas
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.
Imad Rahmatullah, Director of the Water Resources Department in Daquq, stressed in a statement to (KirkukNow) that starting in the middle of next month, “the filling and removal of the fish farming ponds will begin immediately, and the removal of some of them will be delayed until the end of this year.”
We are forced to sell the fish three months before its scheduled date, which incurs losses to the pond owners
The 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, before the campaign was temporarily suspended last August.
“Because of the decision to fill the ponds, we are forced to sell the fish three months before its scheduled date, which incurs losses to the pond owners. In addition, we are forced to wait every day to obtain the permit letter to transport the fish to Baghdad, and if we do not obtain it, we have to unload the fish again from the vehicles to the ponds,” according to Ahmed Bahjat, one of the fish farmers who transport their fish to Baghdad.
Daquq farmers buy small fish from the city of Al-Hilla, centr of Babylon province and raise them in fish ponds. There is a great demand for Daquq fish, as the price of one kilogram in 2022 reached 11,000 IQD, which is the highest during the past decade.
The decision to fill and remove fish ponds and lakes was issued by the Iraqi Council of Ministers and includes 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 basins due to “drought and water scarcity,” in addition to the consumption of electrical energy and groundwater.