Fish conservation an economic saviour for Uttarakhand villages

BANGHAT (Reuters Life!) - Conserving an endangered fish in Uttarakhand’s Ramganga river has proved to be not only environmentally rewarding but also an economic saviour to villages along the banks of the river.

A fisherman casts his net in the waters of the Howrah river on the outskirts of Agartala, Tripura in this October 20, 2009 file photo. Conserving an endangered fish in the Ramganga River has proved to be not only environmentally rewarding but also an economic saviour to villages along the banks of the river. REUTERS/Jayanta Dey/Files

The Golden Mahseer in the Ramganga, which flows through the Jim Corbett National Park, became endangered to the point of extinction due to illegal fishing and the use of explosives to kill and catch fish.

Conservationists launched a programme to save the freshwater fish by explaining to villagers that saving the Golden Mahseer would also help save the high-profile tiger, as the fish was part of the tiger’s food chain.

“I think it’s a long-term message. If you can save what used to be food ... you would be conserving the most prized possessions, like the tigers and the leopards and the elephants,” Sumantha Ghosh, president of the Mahseer Conservancy, told Reuters TV.

Golden Mahseer numbers have now grown so much that villagers, who once killed the fish, have started a business on the back of the fish -- controlled angling in the Ramganga.

“With a gradual increase in tourism and our involvement in the project, the population of the Mahseer has increased in the river,” explained Manoj Negi, one of the villagers benefiting financially from conserving the Golden Mahseer.

“Their number is better than before and tourists are coming to fish in this area,” said Negi, now a Mahseer guide.

The Mahseer is considered to be a prized catch among freshwater fishes, reaching up to nine feet (2.74 metres) in length and weighing as much as 54 kgs (119 pounds).

The villagers now sell fishing kits and aids, and even act as guides to tourists who come to the area for fishing.

The money generated by the sales, usually between Rs 1,200 to 1,500 ($25-30) is divided amongst the guides, the Mahseer Conservancy forum and the villages.

Writing by Michael Perry and Reuters Television; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith