Not long-ago shoals like this would be common, large Mahseer roaming around without much fear. Now, these sights are far & few between. The Mahseer has always been revered as the “Tiger of the Water”. But unfortunately, just like the Tiger, their numbers have been decimated.
A few decades back the situation was different. The Mahseer was still reigning strong even though they were being hunted by anglers for sport and by villagers for food but there was a balance. The angler used a rod and line, which did not always produce the best of results and still most would adhere to the season and allow the fish to breed and propagate. The villager would use nets and handline, but they too would catch them in limited numbers, either for themselves to consume or for a small market. Even the Indian culture and palate was more inclined towards consumption of pulses and vegetables rather than meat and fish. Furthermore, there would be numerous days when Non-vegetarian food would not be eaten and hence the quarry not hunted. Some communities, in fact, were purely vegan. The forest was still green and the and the rivers ran clear. There existed a delicate balance.
This balance has now been lost. Our natural resources are not just being consumed but exploited at a rate which is simply not sustainable. Earlier the consumer and the hunter shared a close relationship. Now it’s only the consumer who is King
Over the year’s population of the Asian countries has skyrocketed putting pressure on natural resources. Yes, progress has been made, per capita income has increased, the standard of life has improved, electricity has reached some villages, but something has got left behind.
Many species have been impacted and one of them is the Mahseer. A lot has been said and highlighted about the tiger and rightly so, he is a majestic animal but what about the Mahseer, The tiger of the rivers. Their population has been decimated by dynamiting, commercial fishing & habitat destruction. Given a chance nature is resilient and can recover but we have also destroyed their breeding runs by constructing dams. Deforestation has further escalated the problem by inducing soil erosion and causing more flash floods which silt up the rivers choking the fish by destroying their life-giving gills. The state of the river Yamuna is a prime example, once abound with this golden beauty it is now deprived of any speakable numbers.
The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) has five of the mahseer species on the Red List (endangered). “The species is estimated to have declined by more than 50% in the past and if the current trends continue and with the new dams being built, the population may decline even up to 80% in the future” – IUCN
But maybe there is still some hope!
Yes, we have national parks, yes, we have sanctuaries, but we need more…. more ways for people to connect with nature.
We believe recreational angling with a strict catch & release policy is one such way to help connect and revive the Mahseer population.
For the Angler: Provides an opportunity not only to catch fish but to find his place amongst nature. He escapes his city life to find some peace and comfort besides a river within a forest on a search which never seizes. For no matter how many fish he may have caught he always returns. Soon he becomes an advocate of the rivers and their sustainability as he wants to keep coming back.
For the youth: Provides an opportunity to the youth to get connected with a sport which is more intuned with nature. Fishing not only involves understanding the fish but also its behavior and environment. The sport is highly engaging and a good way to channelize their energy. By spending more time outdoors, they pick up a unique set of life skills which further shapes their development.
Economic alternative to poaching: As angling becomes a sustainable eco-tourism concept it creates a small industry. By employing the youth from the surrounding villages, generating rental income, consuming local produce & services, revenue is channelized back into the local economy. The economy grows slowly and steadily and soon the villagers realize that it is more beneficial to sustain the fish stocks in the long run rather than killing them off for a quick profit.
The river guides become the protectors: As the concept and support of the villagers grow the river guides and village committees become the protectors of the environment, they act as a force multiplier to the forest department.
At the end it’s a team effort, we can only grow if we are all party to the growth including the fish.
At Pancheshwar the local boys have led by example. They have protected these water from hunters and poachers alike. They are advocated of C&R angling. This small stretch of river which allows recreational angling has become some a sort of refuge. The sheer number of fish being caught and released here is much higher than other parts and not it is not just the numbers but sizes as well. In-fact the recent world record for the golden mahseer was broken from this location itself. These observations indicate that this model of conservation is working. The fish and the people seem to live in harmony.
But they are challenges :
The Dam: A very different and even more deadly threat. A dam is being built on the river Kali. If the project sees the light of day, then its game over for Pancheshwar and other surrounding villages. The dam will end up being one of the largest in the world as it will be constructed within the Mid-Himalayas. The created reservoir will engulf everything. Impact on the bio-diversity including the mahseer population will be devastating as the breeding cycle and migration will be impacted. Multiple local villages will get displaced, their way of life will be over. Some will relocate easily most will struggle.
Limited Scope: Continue with the conservation and expand the scope: Simply conserving Mahseer in one locality is not enough. We will need expand the scope to other parts and different rivers systems. For this, we need more villages to participate, more outfitters, mover river guides and more anglers. Hence unlike other industries, we want and need more competitors.
Unfortunately, the current regulatory scenario is of extremes. Either there are no rules and poaching is rampant or there is a complete ban. Banning shuts the camp, stops the revenue stream, the fishing guide loses his job. Banning sounds right to the disconnected decision maker or the self-righteous activist. But in reality, it is banning that creates the poacher.
Help us in conserving this beautiful inhabitant of our mountain streams. Contact “Camp the Himalaya” for recreational anling. Experience the thrill of Mahseer fishing along side supporting this small yet important economic alterntive for the locals.