Despite favorable conditions and abundant fresh water supply Kashmir imports fish from Delhi and Punjab. Saima Bhat talks to the stakeholders to understand the issues
It has been five years since Haji Abdul Rehman Bhat, 85, a resident of Barzulla in Srinagar, has gone to market to buy fish. Reason. There are no local fish varieties available now. “I don’t like non-local varieties. They all taste the same,” says Bhat.
On the other end of the city, the local fish market located in Chattabal area is abuzz with cars, load carriers, transport vehicles etc. waiting for their orders to get packed.
The market comes to life at 4 AM, as big dealers, local businessmen, and sellers start sorting out the stock for sale.
Kaloo Fish – a local chain selling fish across Srinagar through its network of shops – receives three trucks every morning. Each truckload contains 6510 kgs of fish. The verities they import are Pangasius, Catla, Rohu, Golden, Morakhi, Grass Carp, Silver, B-grade Silver, and some special varieties like Ginger, Popplet, Lobster etc.
“We mainly supply fishes to local hotels, restaurants, roadside kiosks, bakeries etc.,” says Saleem Nazir, an accountant at Kaloo Fishes. “The most sought after are boneless fishes as they are less complicated and safe to eat.”
Like all other dealers, Kaloo Fishes also procure their entire stock from Delhi and Ludhiana. “Only a decade back the same stock was entirely procured from the local market,” says Nazir.
Back then two varieties, one each from Kashmir and Jammu, were the main sellers in the market. “What you see in the market are all non-local varieties. No eatery in Kashmir now serves local fish,” claims Nazir.
Mohammad Aslam, a local fish dealer from Srinagar, blames rapid urbanization, encroachment and pollution of water bodies for the decline in fish production in Kashmir. “There is no awareness among people about how to catch fish. They (fisherman) fish even during the breeding period,” says Aslam.
According to Fisheries Department J&K Government, in 2015 the total production was 21.03 tonnes (from catch and culture), earning the department revenue of Rs 380.28 lakh. Out of which Rs 182.17 lakh was earned from the sale of trout fish only.
There are 937 Carp Units in private sector in J&K, besides 362 units of trout fish. The number of private/commercial fish ponds in the state is 1600, besides 27 farm huts, and 13 laboratories.
The department rears Carp varieties like Indian Major Carp, Catla, Rohu, Margarita, Mahseer across the state. There are some exotic varieties like Grass carp, Silver Carp and Common Carp also reared in the warm waters of Jammu division.
There are three exotic varieties of fish found in cold waters across the three regions of the state. These exotic fishes: Grass Carp, Silver Carp and Common Carp are reared with only one variety of Rainbow Trout.
In last assembly session, former Minister for Animal Husbandry, Fisheries and Science and Technology, Sajad Gani Lone, informed the house that only 90 tonnes (from government run farms) and 300 tonnes (from private farms) of trout fish are produced in the state. He revealed that this produce is from 400 government and private tout fish farms functional in the state. “If we adopt scientific methods of rearing we can easily produce 6000 tonnes,” he informed the house.
Interestingly, only recently, after 30 years of production, that his department became ‘self-sufficient’ in producing the feed for these private and government fish farms.
The culture of rearing fish is an old practice in Kashmir. In 1899, the then Maharaja of Kashmir imported first Trout Ova of 10,000 eggs from UK. The stock perished in transit due to the non-existence of air transport in the region. Then in 1900, the second shipment of 1800 fry was imported from Scotland through JS Macdonall.
On its safe arrival one thousand fry were sent to Panzagam, and Dachigam (Harwan), while remaining 800 were reared inside a private carpet factory in Baghi Dilawar Khan. The said factory was owned by a foreigner named Michel.
However, it was only after the commencement of Mother Trout Fish Farming Project at Kokernag (1984), started with the European Union assistance, that trout fish found popularity.
Another major step was rearing of seeds for Rainbow trout and Brown trout in cold water at the Trout Hatchery at Laribal in Ganderbal district. Later a highly equipped Trout Feed Mill was imported from Holland. Initially, the rearing of Brown trout was not successful in Kashmir’s cold waters. But after efforts, it survived. “These two projects have the capacity to produce more than three million eggs per year,” says R P Singh Bali, Joint Director Fisheries Department.
In a span of two years (1955-57), Carp Fish – originally Chinese Carp – was introduced in the warm waters across the state.
The fish quickly adopted lakes, rivers and other water bodies, where the temperature was slightly higher than the cold water streams. “It was this Carp Fish and Endemic Schizothorax that helped local fishermen to survive all these years,” says Bali. There are around twelve thousand registered fishermen in J&K.
In 2004, a number of schemes were introduced by both state and central government to increase the production of fish in inland fisheries and develop aquaculture. Under the National Welfare Scheme for Fishermen, construction of low-cost houses and group accident insurance scheme for active fishermen were introduced.
The major change came when long-standing demand for rearing and sale of trout fishes by private farmers was granted in 2010. But experts believe that the decision came too late as by that time the local market was already dominated by outside produce.
“Our waters possess great potential for the development of cold and hot water fisheries, sport fisheries, reservoir fisheries etc,” says Bali.
Presently Fisheries Department produces 440 lakh carp fish seeds (in two National fish seed farms in Kathua and Manasbal) and 90 lakh trout seeds (at Harvan). “We export trout seeds to Sikkim, Tamil Naidu, Uttarakhand and Bhutan,” says Bali.
Despite the increase in a local production of fish, there is a wide gulf between supply and demand, largely filled by dealers by importing it from Delhi and Punjab. “What we see in the market is mainly Carp Fish,” says Bali, “Trout is reared in only two other states in India besides Kashmir. So if a person tells you he is selling Trout, he is lying,” says Bali.
Since 1980, the catch percentage has gone down from 70 to 30 per cent. “It is quite alarming,” says Bali.
The demand for fish has increased manifolds in the last few decades in Kashmir region because of its medicinal benefits.
“Fish is the only food which is safe to consume without any threat of inorganic residuals. Fish is recommended for various ailments,” says Dr Hanief Bhat.
The traders associated with the business blame government for neglecting their demand of a separate fish mandi in Kashmir. “It will help streamline the trade,” feels Nazir.
At present, there are only three sale outlets: Bandipora, Islamabad and Budgam in the Kashmir region, from where both government and private farm owners sell their produce.