Kashmir's lake fisheries are dying a slow death

The decline of local species, aggressive promotion of species such as carp, and emphasis on tourism have led to a decline in fish production in Kashmir's Dal and Wular lakes.
View of the Wular Lake (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
View of the Wular Lake (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Decline in fish production in two important lakes in the state

The paper titled 'Lake fisheries in Kashmir: A case more undone than done' published in the Economic and Political Weekly, informs that the two important lakes Dal and Wular, contribute as high as 70% of the total fish production in the state. They were noted for having a flourishing fisheries production over the years but recent data on fish production shows a decline in fish catch in both these lakes.

Reasons for decline in fish production

  • 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 schizothorax, a local fish species.
  • 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 fisherfolk 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.

The paper argues that priority of the government seems to be more towards revenue generation from tourism rather than the conservation and development of lake fisheries, which would enable the fisherfolk to earn increased income in terms of return on time invested in fishing.

Increase in carp fish species a problem for fisheries

The focus on carp species has not led to increased production. Recent data on fisheries indicates that there has been a steady decrease in the total fish production in Dal lake for local fish as well as carp. This calls for a more balanced stock of local species such as schizothorax along with carp.

Special care needs to be taken to ensure sustainable and growing stock of the local species and lesser of carp. Carp culture can be promoted as a separate freshwater aquaculture activity in other water bodies, which would yield good income and help maintain the supply of fish to the markets.

The paper argues that the restoration of schizothorax fishery in the lakes of Kashmir will ensure socio-economic growth and development of sustainable and balanced fisheries. A well-designed plan of action for this restoration is the need of the hour. The paper identifies the need to:

  • develop hatchery technology 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 .

The paper ends by arguing that until such measures are implemented in letter and spirit, the case of restoration of lake fisheries will remain a case more undone than done.

A copy of the paper can be accessed below.