The troubled trout of Kashmir

Brought to Kashmir from Europe a century ago, the trout is imperilled by pollution, human intervention, and climate change
<p>Trout caught in Pahalgam Valley, Kashmir [image by Matthew Laird Acred / Wikipedia]</p>

Trout caught in Pahalgam Valley, Kashmir [image by Matthew Laird Acred / Wikipedia]

A successful immigrant to Kashmir’s waters

The man most associated with the introduction of trout in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) was the redoubtable angler, and owner of a carpet factory, Frank J Mitchel. Although an indigenous variety – the snow trout – already existed in the waters, Mitchel convinced Maharaja Pratap Singh, to ask the British for more varieties. In 1899 the Duke of Bedford sent a consignment of 10,000 trout eggs to J&K, but they perished on the way. A second shipment arrived from Scotland in 1900. Some of these were released in Dachigam, while the rest were reared by Mitchel until they were fingerlings, and then released in other streams of the Valley. The rainbow and brown trout adapted well to the J&K, while the snow trout continued to flourish. The Maharaja created the first fisheries department in J&K, and Mitchel was appointed its first director. Since then, trout have flourished in Kashmir.

“Kashmiri trout has none of the sponginess found in trout in West. The Valley’s clear and fresh water streams add to its taste”, Showkat Ali, the former director of the state’s fisheries department, told thethirdpole.net. According to a statement made by the J&K minister for animal husbandry, fisheries and science and technology, the state run farms produce 90 tonnes of trout, with private farms producing 300 tonnes more.

The real attraction of the trout in the Valley is in the wild, in the numerous snow-fed fresh water streams. Unfortunately it is in the wilderness that the trout is declining due to a deadly blend of pollution, human intervention and climate change.

The Lidder, flowing through Anantnag, once used to boast many trout, but fewer are found now.
The Lidder, flowing through Anantnag, once used to boast many trout, but fewer are found now.

Danger from all quarters

According to a recent study conducted by Farooz Ahmad Bhat, senior assistant professor at the faculty of fisheries of the Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Agriculture Sciences (SKUAST), “in most of the water bodies of Kashmir valley the fish catch per unit effort has decreased over the years”. As this is an index of abundance, the survey shows that the fish populations have decreased over the years. “The ecological degradation in their habitats mostly due to lifting of sand, boulders, pebbles and stones from the river beds illegally has affected their population over the years,” the report says.

There are multiple causes for this problems, the study states, that, “The use of biocides (pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc) and other chemicals in the horticulture and agriculture activities have contaminated our water resources. Consequently the aquatic biota, particularly fishes are getting affected.” It goes on to state, that, “hydroelectric power projects (HEPP), barrages, weirs are also responsible for the decline in fish population in Kashmir waters.”

A third reason is the heavy deforestation. According to the Indian State of Forest Report, the encroachment of the forest land in the state had grown 88% between 2003 and 2012. The period witnessed 6,281 hectares of forest land diverted for other uses and there was no “alternative arrangements for afforestation”.

“This has caused sedimentation in the trout streams, damaging the habitat of the trout,” says a senior fisheries officer, not wishing to be named as he was not authorized to speak to press. “Trout need cobble and boulders and crystal clear water. Sedimentation changes this and turns water muddy”.

A fourth reason is that many people have constructed houses close to the banks. Such violations are common along Sindh, Lidder and Ferozpora streams. “The sewage from the houses goes directly into the streams, contaminating the water,” said the fisheries officer. In the past two decades, a large number of farmers have converted their rice paddies into apple orchards due to the reduction in irrigation, resulting from the declining discharge in snow-fed water bodies.

See: Kashmir’s looming crisis in agriculture

See: The disappearing water bodies of Kashmir

The impact of climate change, as yet poorly understood in the region, is an additional threat. As the water levels in Kashmir’s rivers fluctuate alarmingly, from floods to low flow, the trout’s habitat is critically endangered.

A source of alarm

Dr A R Yusuf, a member of the National Green Tribunal, exclaimed, “What we have now is not what we had earlier. Our water is polluted now. Our water resources have declined. Many hill streams have gone extinct due to the shrinking glaciers. This has impacted trout, the fresh water fish.”

The disappearing trout have been a source of some alarm in Kashmir. The easy availability of the trout in the streams of the Valley has been a boon for the tourism industry. “Trout has made Kashmir one of the world’s major angling destinations. Tourists from across the world now come to Valley to catch the fish,” Showkat Ali said. The Sindh and the Lidder streams offer the finest trout fish anywhere in the world. “Even though the troubled situation of the past two decades stemmed this traffic, anglers have started arriving again”.

Impact on high-end tourism

In this way, the trout was helping Kashmir come out of its violence-affected past. But the general decline in trout catch is threatening the angling. This accounts for a significant part of the Valley’s high end tourism. According to Mohiuddin Makhdoomi, the deputy director at the fisheries department, the number of anglers arriving in J&K in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 was 1291, 1457, 1427 and 1100 respectively. The anglers come from countries like Germany, Russia, Japan, Britain, Canada, Holland, Hungary, Dubai, Oman, and the other Gulf.

As the figures show, the number of anglers has either remained static or declined. Besides, the number falls far short of the Valley’s angling potential. There are 175 beats. With each beat accommodating two anglers a day, the state can host 350 anglers a day. So in six months of angling season from April to September, the number can go upwards of 30,000. It is currently woefully short of this figure.

Little hope, even less done

Little has been done to change this reality. Last year, the former J&K minister for animal husbandry, fisheries and science and technology, Sajad Gani Lone, mooted the idea of connecting all fishery farms and angling spots of the department through Close Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras. By broadcasting the live feed on the internet, the department could view the areas around the clock. However, while CCTV cameras might help check the poaching and the lifting of sand and bajri, they will hardly solve the problem of larger human intervention: pollution due to the effluents from the nearby habitations and the inflow of pesticides from the orchards and the rice paddies. And CCTV cameras are hardly going tobe able to deal with the impacts of climate change.

In the meanwhile the J&K government has changed. Lone is no longer the minister, and it is unclear what will happen to J&K’s trout – an unseen victim, and an unlikely saviour to Kashmir’s many problems.