Experts suggest species atlas no-stocking for Mahseer conservation

By Zafri Mudasser Nofil
     New Delhi, Dec 16 (PTI) A mix of on-field strategies and policy decisions, a species atlas as a single reference point for information and doing away with the pseudo-conservation practice of stocking are some of the ways the threatened Mahseer fish can be conserved, say experts.
     They are also of the view that gaming in no way has impacted Mahseer populations but has in fact helped in its conservation and research.
     According to Adrian C Pinder, who is director of research at Mahseer Trust, of the many threats to all species of the majestic fish are pollution, habitat destruction (particularly dam construction which changes habitat and stops migration to spawning grounds), overfishing with dynamite, poisons, small mesh nets and other non-sustainable methods.
     At the recent International Mahseer Conference in Bhutan, the main threat identified for mahseer was the pseudo-conservation practice of stocking the fish, he says.
     "Several hatcheries are in operation and some have stocked the wrong species in the wrong river. This has led to the near extinction of the endemic hump-backed mahseer of the river Cauvery," Pinder told PTI.
     According to WWF-India, of the 47 species of Mahseer that exist in the world, India is home to 15. Of these, the golden mahseer (Tor putitora) is endangered and the giant hump-backed mahseer (Tor remadevii) is critically endangered.
     WWF-India is identifying crucial river stretches requiring immediate protection for survival of the Mahseer. It is currently working with the Uttarakhand forest department on river Kosi (a tributary of the Ramganga river) near the Corbett Tiger Reserve.
     Additionally, studies to determine species specific flow requirements are being initiated through a radio tagging exercise along rivers Ganga-Nayar complex, says Asghar Nawab, senior manager (biodiversity) at WWF-India.
     He says a species atlas as a single comprehensive reference point for information on Golden Mahseer conservation is being devised for Uttarakhand in collaboration with Wildlife Institute of India and HNB Garhwal University.
     "The atlas will act as a reference for professional and amateur conservationists and will be used as a tool to support the advocacy campaign to obtain legal protection for the species," Nawab says.
     While there is an overall understanding of the species and the need for its conservation among local communities, fishermen use methods such as bleaching, dynamiting and poisoning for fishing since decades, which in turn impacts the health of the river and its species, he says.
     Rajeev Raghavan, an assistant professor at the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies, allays fears that Mahseer gaming has led to its decline.
     "Mahseer game fishing has been particularly useful in understanding several aspects of the species (such as distribution, population abundance, threats etc) for which scientific information is not available. I would say that game fishing for Mahseer is the most important conservation tool for this threatened group of fishes," he says.
     Raghavan suggests that strategies like protection of critical habitats, developing 'no-take areas' and implementing 'no-take seasons', enforcing regulations on illegal fishing using banned gears (and dynamites), implementing catch quotas for effective conservation.
     Many states have Mahseer as their 'state fish' and so state governments should develop policies to ensure the protection of the fish in the wild, he says.
     Pinder also endorses Raghavan's take on gaming.
     "There are lots of examples on Mahseer and other examples around the globe where catch and release fisheries contribute to conservation in a positive way. Mahseer specific research shows that the fish is particularly resilient to catch and release," he says.
     Veteran naturalist and conservationist Raza H Tehsin says reaching a length of 9 feet, Mahseer is one of the toughest freshwater fish and a formidable opponent to anglers with its powerful flanks and fierce attitude.
     "Once widely distributed, this fish that held a mythical status is wiped out from many regions and battling habitat destruction, water pollution, commercial fishing and myopic government policies. If this continues, the fish will indeed become a myth," he rues. PTI ZMN AAR