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Trout decline hits Himalayan communities

Image by Muhammad Adeel

55-year old Mohammad Bashir used to make a good living from fishing trout. Today, his family business is on the brink and his two sons have left the village to find work elsewhere. “There is just not enough trout to make ends meet. Many youngsters have migrated to other places in search of work,” he says.

Bashir lives by the River Kunhar in the Kaghan valley in the north-east of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province,  part of the Indus River basin. This area is famous for its pristine rivers, lakes and glaciers which provide the perfect environment for trout.

Until the 1990s trout fishing was a major source of livelihood and provided nutrition for local communities. However, pollution and unchecked construction along the river has led to a  sharp decline in trout, say experts.

Muhammad Waseem, wildlife and environment expert at WWF-Pakistan says the decline of trout has been observed in the Kunhar River “but unfortunately still time no search work done on it to give accurate population figures due to lack of facilities in government and private sector” he said.

The three species of trout in Pakistan — the snow trout, the rainbow trout and the brown trout – are now rarely seen in the wild outside hatcheries. The snow trout is indigenous to the region and the other two species were introduced by the British in the Chitral and Kaghan valley in the 1920s.

As well as being important for local livelihoods, trout plays an important role in the river ecosystem. “Trout are the top native predator and a keystone species. The presence of trout in lakes, streams and rivers supports commercial and recreational fisheries in the ecosystem and helps to stabilise the aquatic ecosystem,” said Waseem.

The local tourist industry has been hit by the decline of trout as well. Local tour guide Mohammad Asif explained that visitors to the valley want to taste the legendary fish they have heard so much about: “But we cannot always appease their palate as it is rarely available these days.” Restaurant owner Mohammad Ramzan agreed. He was doing a roaring trade in the 1990s, but his business has suffered due to lack of trout. “I would say it [trout] has reduced by 60%,” he lamented.

Fisherman Bashir misses the glory days of the 1980s and 90s when diplomats from Islamabad visited the Kaghan valley especially for fishing. “If the catch was good, we were rewarded handsomely for our services,” he said.

Today, trout fishing is restricted, yet illegal hunting by influential people continues. “While we are prohibited by the fisheries department from hunting, the concerned authorities turn a blind eye to illegal fishing by the rich and the powerful,” pointed out Bashir. Once a major part of their diet, today local people say trout become beyond their reach as it could be sold for Rs 3,000 (£19) per kilogramme.

Trout fishing is allowed for four months every year and only with a permit; a permit costs Rs 2,000 (US$20) and allows the fishing enthusiast to catch one fish using a rod. The restrictions aimed to put an end to the use of nets, dynamite or electric shocks to catch fish.

Trout fishing was first banned in 2000, before the ban was lifted subject to a permit system in 2007. In 2009 the provincial government imposed a complete ban which was lifted again in 2011 subject to a permit.

Construction pressure

Environmental degradation has also played a major part in the decline of trout.

Over the last ten years this Himalayan region has seen a host of unscrupulous development projects. Poorly planned construction of roads, dams and hotels, restaurants and houses along the banks of River Kunhar has polluted its water and damaged ecosystems.

For example, in 2005 the National Highway Authority (NHA) started the unauthorised construction of a multi-story luxury housing complex on the bed of the Kunhar, after diverting the natural flow of the river. An inquiry report, prepared by the Hazara division commissioner’s office and submitted in 2014, revealed the construction had destroyed natural trout fish habitat as well as the ecosystem and aquatic life downstream.

However, there has been no study of the rate of decline of the trout population. Mohammad Zubair, assistant director of the fisheries department in Mansehra district, admitted that while such a study was of paramount importance, it was not been possible due to financial and human resource constraints. “But a plan for the conservation of trout is in the pipeline and it will of course include a baseline study of the trout population,” he said.

The commissioner’s report revealed the NHA had violated a number of environmental laws. It also recommended that the “building must be demolished for the restoration of the ecosystem and beauty of the area”. To date, however, the NHA building remains.

Local businessman and environmental activist retired Major Abid Hussain said that during the construction of the 228 kilometre-long Mansehra-Naran-Jalkhat road — which began in 1998 and continues today — debris and construction material was thrown into the river, destroying trout habitat. He said these practices resulted in the diversion of river flow and have been adopted by private builders in the area ever since.

Comments (12)

Valuable information about trout scarcity in Kunhar river. This is a serious concern of the writer . Fisheries department should take immediate step in this regard.

A comprehensive write up on a dying HAMALAYAN BROWN TROUT, by the means of human errors and senseless attitude of concrned fisheries deapartment. may this serve as an eye opener to all concerned ????

its a master piece, and i think its a great service for the survival of trout and mountain communities. very informative for me.

The dying Trout Fish call through Muhammad Zubair Khan ……………
we do expect this article will serve as a reminder to Govt to do some thing for this rare BROWN TROUT conservation in KUNHAR River of Middle Himalaya.

A very Nice Article from My Friend Zubair.It is Great that we have such Thinkers who write on The species that are Becoming Scarce,Trout is a National asset Of Pakistan Local Heritage,
We,need to work Hard to save it.
proud to be a Friend of a Wise man writing on the Topic
Nice Article.

Corroborating what this article says, my children and I fished the Kunhar near Naran last summer, and we didn’t have any luck. The fact that we caught some trout in Saiful Malook suggests the lakes are somewhat protected from the type of environmental hazards the writer notes. Recreational fishing with permits is not destructive; “fishing” with dynamite, dumping of construction debris into the river, and pollution into the river from the hundreds of hotels with no sewage treatment are the culprits.

Mr. Zubair
You did,t report the environmental degradation as i clarified to you. Once Naran was a small town, with few scattered huts and shops, pure water and no agriculture practices.. Now compare that with the current Naran city. Multi-story hotels having outlets of all drainage including toxic detergents to river Kunhar. The use of pesticides and fertilizers up to Battakundi and upwards in Agriculture fields has their ultimate runoff into river Kunhar after precipitation. The construction of roads and buildings covered the gravel bed of river with silt and mud resulting in destruction of breeding grounds for brown trout. The fisheries department is not turning a blind eye towards its responsibilities. They are trying their best in the limited resources. Each fisheries watcher has to cover a distance of 30-40 Km with out any vehicle or weapon for self defense. Say he has to travel 80-Km from both side daily. Is it possible for a low paid fisheries watcher to bear the expenditures of living in Naran, where a single cup of tea cost a person Rs.70/-.The department charged 168 persons in illegal fishing, including Mr. Mohammad Bashir the hero of your article.The fisheries department has no powers to arrest in these cases as illegal fishing is not cognizable offence. The cases are submitted to the court and the court mostly ask for production of two witnesses that will not be employees of department. Is it possible for a person to be party as witness against another person,mostly belonging to his village. Writing an essay is easier than actual duty in the field. As a matter of fact Natural resources are depleting in the whole world, such as forest, wild life and common house hold chicks under the burden of human population explosion. The world is compensating the loss in the shape of introduction of alternatives for example fast growing poultry industry and introduction of Agro-forestry and fisheries is no exemption, the department is busy in development of Trout farms in Kaghan valley to provide employment opportunities to the people and reduce burden on natural water bodies. During current year the department will construct seven trout fish farms in the area free of cast, the last date for submission of application is 20th February. Let’s be realistic, The task of achieving the past lorry of 1950 can not be attained in any field of life. lets join hands with alternative than beating bush after the snake has gone.

Zubair Ali
Assistant Director Fisheries Tarbela & Khanpur dams.

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