Kashmir’s endemic fish — Snowtrout or Schizothorax — is vanishing, fisheries biologists say and blame the introduction of exotic species and growing pollution for it.
Experts say exotics like Common Carp and Trout, which were introduced in 1956 and 1900, have been thriving at Schizothorax’s cost.
Schizothorax fish were found in abundance in snow-fed lakes, rivers, wetlands and canals until 30 years back. They have elongated and subcylindrical fleshy bodies and are known to be tastier and free of diseases. Their presence in water bodies would indicate that they were pollution free.
Experts say over half of Schizothorax’s 22 species have disappeared. The Dal Lake has some Snowtrout presence while they are no longer found in polluted water bodies like Srinagar’s Khushalsar Lake.
Biologist Ernst Haeckel, who visited Kashmir in 1838, reported 16 fish species that he considered were new and wrote about them in his book ‘Fische Aus Caschmir’.
Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST)’s fisheries department head Masood ul Hassan Balkhi said 12 of the species Heckel’s discovered were found to be those of Schizothorax. He said researchers and the fishermen are now able to find only five of them. “…the five species, still found in waters, are also in danger,” Balkhi said.
Zeba, who has been selling fish in Srinagar for decades, said most of her catch is Common Carp. She had managed to catch just a single Schizothorax fish last week.
SKAUST’s fisheries resource management department head Faroz Ahmad Bhat said their research in 2005 found 15% of the total catch to be Schizothorax while 68% was Common Carp.
“In 2015, Schizothorax’s numbers reduced to 10%.” Bhat said the biomass of the species has also been decreasing. One of them would grow as much as a healthy human child. Fisheries department joint director Mohammad Amin Mir said their priority has been overall fish production.