The population of the golden mahseer, a popular freshwater sport and food fish, is going to prosper in the rivers of Himachal Pradesh, with the state fisheries department succeeding in breeding it in captivity for the first time.
Besides its rehabilitation and conservation, the breeding technology will turn out to be a major feat in commercial aquaculture too, say experts.
More than 7,000 hatchlings have been recovered from the eggs at a newly set-up Rs 6 crore ($900,000) hatchery at Machhial near Jogindernagar town in Mandi district.
"The first hatchling took place this week and it's a major breakthrough in evolving the breeding technology of the golden mahseer that is otherwise believed to be tough to breed in controlled conditions," fisheries director Gurcharan Singh told IANS.
The breeding took place on July 21 and the hatchlings occurred in the next four to five days.
Singh said in 2012 the department started collecting fries of the golden mahseer from nature. They were later raised to the brooder stage at the farm itself.
"We are expecting to raise more than 20,000 hatchlings this year," a beaming Singh added.
The artificial fertilisation of mahseer eggs in the private sector was carried out for the first time in 1970 at the Tata Power Company's farm at Lonavla in Pune in Maharashtra.
Fish biologist S.N. Ogale, a former Tata biologist, has been assisting the state in developing protocols for the mahseer's artificial propagation and hatchery management.
Being a game fish, the mahseer is also an angler's delight.
Studies conducted by the fisheries department say the population of the golden mahseer is declining in the state for various reasons, including construction of dams, barrages, pollution, indiscriminate fishing of brood and juvenile fish, introduction of exotic species and habitat deterioration.
It has been declared endangered by the Washington-based International Union of Conservation of Natural Resources.
The mahseer, the longest-living freshwater fish, is native to mountain and sub-mountain regions. It belongs to the Tor genus.
The Pong Dam reservoir, around 250 km from state capital Shimla and 190 km from Chandigarh, supports an ample population of the golden mahseer.
It migrates upstream for spawning during the southwest floods. After spawning, it returns to the original feeding grounds. It thrives at altitudes of up to 2,000 metres above sea level and is purely carnivorous.
Fisheries Minister Thakur Singh Bharmouri told IANS that after the captive breeding the next step would be ranching -- the release and recapture of fish -- a milestone in aquaculture.
He said more than 6,000 families in the state are directly depending upon capture fishery.
He said the depleting fish stocks in the rivers would be increased by releasing hatchery-reared juveniles into nature.
Officials said in nature, fish stocks are multiplied to a great extent by releasing hatchery-reared juveniles. They can be harvested when they grow to table size.
Principal Secretary Sangay Gupta said another mahseer hatchery would be set up at Naggar village in the Sunni area of Shimla district this year.
"This hatchery would help stocking mahseer in the newly constructed Kol Dam reservoir," he added.
Himachal Pradesh is aptly termed the storehouse of aquatic biodiversity. The state's water bodies are home to 85 fish species, including rohu, catla and mrigal and trout, both brown and rainbow.
The fisheries department says the overall fish production in the state has increased by 9.2 percent in the last fiscal.
A total of 11,798 tonnes of fish valued at Rs.109.80 crore was harvested from the state's rivers and reservoirs in 2015-16, 1,062 tonnes higher than the previous year.
Of this, trout constituted 417.23 tonnes -- 61.03 tonnes higher than the previous year.
The state aims to set up 106 trout units this fiscal, besides setting up hatcheries for trout and carps and storing seeds in reservoirs for big fish.
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