During the beginning of this months, hundreds of fish were found dead along the sides of Lebanon’s biggest
artificial lake (lake Qaraoun) within the Bekaa Valley. This is not something common at the lake, and thus
there is no precedent practice/procedure to follow. Accordingly, a search for potential solutions started and
many environmentalists started proposing various potential solutions. Most of these proposed solutions are
theoretically acceptable and feasible, such as, incineration, composting, landfilling, rendering, etc… However,
theses proposed options were provided based on common practice and not provided as a customized
solution for this incident. This is a risky process and might lead to having the proposed solution backfiring at
everyone, especially if the process is to provide a reusable end product such as composting.
Composting of Dead Fish
Without going deep into the process(es) of composting fish, composting fish is an exothermic reaction as per
the composing of other organic matter. Being exothermic it releases a temperature slightly higher than 50°C.
Once such temperature is maintained for 3-5 days, pathogens will be destroyed. Thus, enabling the end
product (compost) to be used in agricultural practices. However, what remains challenging is the means of
composting, implementing fish composting in open areas may cause foul odors that would attract rodents,
cats, flies, and other animals to the composting site. To avoid that, either controlled environment for the
composting process has to be established, or alternative techniques should be applied. Such alternative
techniques, have included, burying the fish at the roots of plants and trees and let them decompose
naturally, or bury them in trenches for several month, till they decompose, then extract them and use them.
Risks of Composting in the Context of the Qaraoun Fish
Media reports on the Qaraoun dead fish incident, correlated the incident to the pollution of the lake.
However, no clear reports have identified the main pollutant that resulted in the death. This is critical and
essential, within this context, as it may define the acceptable techniques for the treatment of the dead fish.
For instance, if the fish died due to heavy metal pollution, the temperature generated from the composting
process will not treat such pollution, and thus the pollutant will be found in the end product (compost).
Thus, the end product will no longer be suitable for agricultural purposes. On the other hand, the fish may
still be composted if the cause of their death is related to some organic pollutant(s) that may be destroyed
by the exothermic temperature of the composting process.
Based on the above, it is essential to identify the reason and type of pollutant that causes any waste incident
before, recommending and implementing potential solutions. Accordingly, within the context of the dead
fish incident, it is recommended as a first step to conduct tests on the dead fish, to identify the type(s) or
category of pollutants that caused the death. Once the source/reason of death is identified, the following
two measures should be taken,
- Identify the source of this specific pollution in the lake and treat it once and for all to prevent similar
incidents in the future.
- Specify the treatment technique that is technically and environmentally compatible with the type of
pollution within the fish. The treatment technique should also account for health and safety, during the
treatment process, and for the utilization of any end product (applicable based on the technique).
If identifying the source/reason of death is not applicable or not possible, then techniques with limited
liability should be considered. Such techniques, should not include reusable end products, nor release of
emissions that may constitute of potential pollutants.