Underwatertimes.com News Service - September 20, 2006 20:35 EST

Business is booming for local fishermen here as demand has sharply risen for a fish variety, locally called Ayrai Kunchu, found abundantly in the Mettur reservoir, which people here believe is a sure cure for male impotency and a cheap alternative to Viagra.

Not long ago Ayrai Kunchu, a tiny fish, was thrown back into the water as it was considered of little value, with not many opting to buy it. But now the demand for the fish has increased so much that fishermen use mosquito nets to catch it, worrying environmentalists that its over exploitation could damage the fish wealth of the Mettur reservoir.

"The increasing exploitation of this small fish could damage the marine life in Mettur reservoir. This has to be stopped," says Mr. R.Varadarajan, an environmentalist. Mettur's fish wealth provides a livelihood for more than 16,000 fishermen families. About 2,000 licensed and 6,000 unlicensed coracles (native boats) are used everyday for fishing here.

A cooperative has been formed to help fishermen get a better price for their catch. Until now the cooperative society received about 2 tons of catch per day, but ever since the fishermen turned to catching the Viagra fish, the catch received by the co-operative, which deals with other varieties, has fallen to 650 kg per day.

The fishermen are, however, busy "Suddenly there has been a spurt in fishing activity here. Fishermen are going all out to catch Ayrai Kunchu following a demand caused by the belief that it is a cheap replacement for Viagara,." says Mr.A.Nagaraj,a local fisherman. The Ayrai Kunchu, which was once thought to be worthless, now fetches Rs 70 per kg before drying and the dried fish fetches over Rs 200 per kg.

The fish is transported to Salem, Coimbatore and Erode where much of the demand for it exists. While it is believed that the fish can cure male impotency, those who sell it are not able to say what quantity of the fish must be consumed to achieve the Viagra-like effect. But the fish is sold in not less than half-kg packets.

"We cannot disclose who the buyers are due to the competition but there are repeated orders from those who have bought the fish and got satisfaction," says Mr.S.Ramar, a fisherman. Local doctors deny there is any truth is in this belief. "The fishermen's theory cannot be accepted until it has been scientifically proved. It is a marketing gimmick to make profit," says a local doctor. "There is no truth in this. It is an illusion that the small dried fish cures impotent male" says Dr.G.Raja, a private medical practitioner.