Trout Farming in Kashmir

In the early hours of the morning, just after sunrise, hundreds of anglers make their way to the banks of Kashmir’s numerous rivers, fed by the melting glaciers of the Himalayas, baiting their hooks, waiting to cast their rods into the fluid mountain streams.

The water is normally exceptionally clear unless it had rained the night before and the rivers, with their deceptive currents, are swollen with rainwater that washes away rocks and sediments from the fertile green banks.

The prized catch of the day - trout (brown trout), a species of freshwater fish that rarely survives in warm Asiatic conditions but thrives in Kashmir’s twenty three major rivers. It is a testament to the state’s resolute, ecologically friendly, environment.

Be it for sport or a means to an alternate income the cold water breed of fish is highly sought after. A cooked serving of rainbow trout (the most common freshwater trout) contains approximately 981 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids namely eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid or DHA.

A 3 ounce serving of trout contains almost four times more omega 3-fatty acids than the daily requirement. It is by far the best source of protein for growing children.

A similar 3-ounce serving also contains 21 grams of protein i.e. 37% of the recommended daily allowance for an adult man and 46% of the daily requirement for an adult woman. From the nutritional perspective trout is far superior to red meat and takes half the effort to farm and if the conditions are right, it is a viable, sustainable, option. In addition to that it also tastes pretty darn good.

It’s fairly easy to cook, - clean it, cut it up, smoke it or grill it and squeeze some lime or lemon over it and it’s done. Trout has to be cooked just right, and overcooking it might rob it of its nutritional content so it’s best to keep things simple.

Credit for pioneering Kashmir’s fertile trout harvests and enhancing it biodiversity goes to Englishman Frank Mitchell. In 1899 he reared trout on his private premises which included a carpet factory, and later started a trout farm in Harwan (1909).

He didn’t particularly want to release the hatchlings into the rivers but the fates appeared to have had a plan of their own and the weather took a sudden turn for the worse. The repeated rain precipitated flash floods and his hatchlings were washed away and swept into local rivers.

The trout survived and reproduced at an unprecedented rate. The trout population burgeoned in pure undefiled waters, reproducing naturally in Kashmir’s undulating rivers.

The demand not only for trout but for fish overall is increasing and the accelerating demand has led to fish farmers trying to emulate the successes in the wild under controlled conditions with mixed results. 

Kashmir has a water spread that covers 17,000 hectares which includes a variety of tanks and ponds where hatchlings are released yearly. Fish is also further cultivated in reservoirs, streams, lakes, and other encatchment areas.

The state has adequate facilities to breed both warm water and cold water varieties. The former includes the cultivation of various species of carps and the latter, which is more important, in terms of both demand and revenue, is trout.

At present the aquaculture scene in Kashmir is dominated by small scale producers. Production techniques and methods include low cost manure based systems which yield approximately one to three tons of fish per hectare. A bulk of the labor force comprise of women and like in Nepal, where 60% of the labor force employed in the aquaculture sector are women, it provides rural women with a steady, dependable income.

Trout hatcheries are located all over the state but most of these facilities cater only for sports fishing and the Himalayan riverine system has yet to be exploited.

The crystal waters that flow from the Himalayas are ideal for trout farming. The fish flourishes in fluent, clear, crisp waters as opposed to languid, turbid, murky waters, clouded with soil and laden with sediments. It’s a viable, commercial venture and its potential is as of yet unexplored fully .

However, having said that, India exports freshwater fish, so it produces more than sufficient quantities to meet domestic demand and that might explain the reluctance, at present anyway, to expand its freshwater fish farming capabilities.

Copyright © 2019 by Kathiresan Ramachanderam


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