Fish and Fisheries sector occupies a very important place in the socio-economic development of the state. It has been recognized as a powerful income and employment source of cheap and nutritious food, besides being a source of livelihood for a large section of economically backward population of the country.
The total fishermen population in the State as per livestock census 2003 was around 31,000. It is presently estimated around 93000. The 27781 Km. length of rivers/streams facilitate farming of more than 40 million tonnes of fish. As against this, the State has only 0.07 lakh hectares under reservoir area. There is a big gap between the demand and supply of fish.
Fish is a valuable element of diet of the local people throughout the year. There is also a demand for fish from the defense personnel and tourists. There are 1248 lakes, including water bodies, and water is spread into 0.40 lakh hectares area which gives an indication of the potential for fisheries in the State.
The Dal and Wular lakes produce 70% of the total fish production in Jammu and Kashmir. In addition to introduction of carps, negative externalities of tourism, excessive fertilisation of vegetable crops on floating gardens leading to algal blooms have all led to a consistent decline and destruction of the breeding grounds of the local fish species schizothorax. Schizothorax being native fish of Kashmir and bone of fisheries in the valley is perhaps taking its last breath due to the negligence of the Government as well as common man. Both breeding and feeding grounds have been destroyed directly or indirectly. Unfortunately Schizothorax known for its taste throughout is declining day by day. The introduction of the carp species of fish in Dal lake and heavy siltation in Wular lake have led to a consistent decline in the production of fishes in general and schizothorax in particular. Besides this, negative externalities of tourism such as excessive growing of vegetable crops on floating gardens leading to algal blooms, have all led to a decline and destruction of the breeding grounds of the local fish species.
The problem of fisheries in Kashmir lakes is a double-edged sword and has arisen due to the dilemma created due to differential objectives by the Department of Fisheries and the Department of Tourism. While on the one hand the fisher folk, who derive primary income from lake fishery, are in favour of schizothorax fishery, they also want to increase total fish production from the lakes to meet the ever-increasing demand of the local consumers irrespective of the species. Though fish production in absolute terms may be increasing in the Dal lake, the rate of growth of even carp fish production is declining. The restoration of schizothorax fishery in the lakes of Kashmir on an even keel will ensure growth in socio-economic-cultural terms and the sustainability of fishery.
The population of Schizothorax in lakes of Kashmir is on decline owing to increased carp fish production. Now, the Dal Lake is more of a tourist delight than a source of livelihood for local fishers. The Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) of Kashmir has not involved itself in saving a puny fish that the locals would do well to sacrifice.
Fisheries form an important component of the economy of Jammu and Kashmir, which along with agriculture contributes a significant 23% to its Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP). Besides being an important allied activity to agriculture, it contributes significantly to the agricultural economy and also generates self-employment. The need of the hour is to overhaul fisheries completely by developing hatcheries to increase the count of schizothorax fish species in the lakes, develop ranching programmes, which include herding or aggregating fish of one species at one place and harvesting them. Make concerted efforts to reduce the dominance of carp, and encourage institutionalisation of lake fisheries of Kashmir through establishment of suitable end to end supply chain arrangements. Until measures are not implemented in letter and spirit, the case of restoration of lake fisheries will remain a dream which may not be fulfilled.
(Dr. Aijaz Ahmad Bhat, a PhD. in Fisheries and water chemistry From Department of Zoology, University of Kashmir, teaches Zoology in Degree College Bemina, Srinagar)