Trout swims to success in Jammu and Kashmir

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Jammu and Kashmir: Trout swims to success in Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmir’s trout is in demand, with states in India seeking its eggs to rear the Union Territory’s (UT) famed fish breed. Just this year, in January, 500,000 trout ova were dispatched from its famous Kokernag farm in the Anantnag district to Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Uttarakhand. Then, in February, another 200,000 trout eggs were sent to Sikkim through the Directorate of Research Centre, Bhimtal (ICAR) in Uttarakhand. The 700,00 trout ova sent to these states were airlifted so the progeny reach the respective destinations safe and unharmed. “The Kashmir trout are believed to be healthier and genetically improved than its counterparts in other states. It also grows fast and accepts pellets (fish feed) easily, which is why it is so popular, both within the state and outside,” says Mohd. Muzaffar Bazaz, Joint Director, Fisheries (Kashmir division).

Incidentally, both varieties of trout found in Jammu & Kashmir – brown and rainbow – are successful immigrants to its cold waters. Their origin story dates back to over 100 years ago, according to the website of the J&K fisheries department. Although an indigenous variety, the snow trout, existed, the noted angler and owner of a carpet factory, Frank J. Mitchel convinced the then state’s ruler, Maharaja Pratap Singh, to ask the British for more varieties. The first shipment of 10,000 trout eggs arrived from the UK in 1899, courtesy of the Duke of Bedford but the batch perished en-route to Srinagar.

Trout swims to success in Jammu and Kashmir. The second shipment of trout eggs arrived from Scotland in 1900 and also included 1800 fry (fingerlings). Of these, 1000 were released in Panzagam Dachigam (Harwan), about 24 km from Srinagar, and the rest were reared by Mitchel at Baghi Dilawar Khan on his private premises. Later, they were released into streams around the Valley. The brown and rainbow trout adapted well to their surroundings and have since flourished in Kashmir.

Mitchel also established the first trout hatchery at Harwan in 1901 and trained locals. The successful introduction and subsequent establishment of trout in the Valley led to the establishment of the Department of Fisheries in 1903. It was known as the Department of “Game Preservation” at the time and its activities remained confined to sport fishing and conservation of natural water resources. In 1978, the department was re-organised and over time, the focus slowly shifted to acquiring requisite infrastructure, training manpower and adopting modern fish farming technology. Since then, it has gone on to develop carp and trout farms, hatcheries, rearing units, sale centres, laboratories, angler lodges, and aquarium and awareness centres in Jammu, Kashmir and Leh.

Go with the flow
“The trout found in Kashmir is less spongy than its western counterparts. It is easy to clean, has fewer scales and tender bones. The freshwater from the streams adds to its taste. It is also easy to rear and resistant to diseases. So much so that 583 private and state-assisted units in J&K produced 500 tonnes of trout in 2020,” says Bazaz.
Kashmir has two types of fisheries, warm and cold water. “To survive, trout needs temperatures between 0 to 20 degrees Celsius. It cannot flourish in standing water and must have access to perennially flowing waters. It also migrates annually to the upper reaches to breed. In the wild, brown trout can be found in Lidder River, Brengi River and streams such as Madhumati and Ferozepur, among others,” says Shah Malik, a wildlife researcher.

Brown trout attracts anglers, particularly foreigners, to J&K’s high-altitude lakes and numerous snow-fed freshwater streams, making it an important part of the tourism industry. Unfortunately, a blend of pollution, human intervention and climate change has resulted in a decline in the brown trout’s population. So, it is now also reared in state-run farms and introduced into streams and rivers to keep them populated.

Stock management
Rainbow trout is predominantly blue, green, yellow and silver in colour, and glistens in various shades of the rainbow. It is rich in protein and is said to boost immunity, another reason for its popularity. But it faces threats when raised in open water sources. “The breeding of the rainbow trout is disturbed due to mineral extraction and other activities. That is why it is now reared in ponds, with a defined entry and exit of running water,” says Malik.

Trout swims to success in Jammu and Kashmir. In June 2018, Anantnag district was declared as ‘Trout district of India’. Several fish farms have been established here with government support. Kokernag is home to Asia’s largest trout farm. It has fast emerged as one of the leading producers of rainbow trout in the world. The farm was set up in 1995 with support from the European Economic Committee and started with a single hatchery. Today, it supplies millions of eyed ova and rainbow and brown trout seeds to beneficiaries, including private fish farmers. “Eggs are obtained from trout fish between November and February every year. It has a breeding period of 51 days,” says Malik. The fingerlings are given feed first in tanks and then taken to water reservoirs. “It takes 12-15 months for the trout to grow over 250 grams. These are then ready for sale to trout farms, where they grow up to three kg before being sold in the market,” he adds.

Today, trout rearing units/hatcheries have been established in almost all the districts of the UT. Trout culture is undertaken under modern technology of breeding and rearing to ensure better survival at different stages of the fish and to produce sufficient quality of table-size trout. The fisheries department also undertakes broodstock management to achieve better fertilisation during spawning. “Even the pandemic had no effect on production. We generated Rs. 183 lakh in revenue in 2019-20 and 2020-21 has already seen revenue cross Rs. 175 lakh,” says Bazaz.

Local support
Trout farming has also emerged as an important source of income for farmers in the Kashmir region. It received a major thrust in 2020 with the launch of the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMSSY). Farming of commercial trout can be done on a piece of land close to a water body. Locals can establish their units with the help of this scheme, under which 60% of the money is provided by the Union government and 40% by the UT administration. “Around 200 units have so far been set up under the PMSSY. It is open to anyone interested. We conduct a feasibility survey to see if trout can successfully be reared at the location. If for any reason it can’t, we provide assistance to the locals to farm carp instead,” says Bazaz.

Better revenue from trout farming has led some locals to move from agriculture to aquaculture. Abid Amin from Kulgam is one such individual. “Rearing trout started off as a hobby, but it offered better returns than any farming that could be done on this land. So, I decided to venture into it full-time. I started off with two fish farms and after learning the ropes, sought assistance under the PMSSY to establish two more. Rearing trout is easy, profitable and the government provides all possible support to us,” he says.

By  Sneha Mahale

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