La carpe dorée géante d'Asie du Sud (Tor putitora, le tigre aquatique) vient réensemencer les rivières d'Inde à travers le plan de reconstitution le plus ambitieux depuis le projet tigre. Cet animal vigoureux peut atteindre 2,75m de long et peser 50kgs. The Statesman, ce jour. Anil Sardana. "Fish tales of swimming tigers".
Green initiatives have become ubiquitous these days, implemented with zeal at companies, and often used in conjunction with "sustainable development" and "corporate social responsibility". But people’s familiarity with the subject, and the full extent of their knowledge about the depleting resources and dying breeds is largely fleeting. Industrial growth has its effects on biodiversity and, therefore, corporates must play a major role in reversing the trend of biodiversity degradation by imbibing "conservation" as a corporate value. The Mahseer Conservation Programme by Tata Power is a case in point that has lent a new wave of life to the fast depleting Golden Mahseer in what can be described as the biggest Indian conservation effort after Project Tiger.
A tough fighter
Mahseer, known as "tigers of the water", are the world’s toughest fighting fish and can grow up to 2.75 metres (9 feet) in length, and easily weigh 35-40 kg. Due to the large size these fish attain, mahseer finds a place among the 20 "mega fishes" of the world. Locals admire the fish’s vigor to constantly swim upstream in search of food and oxygen. Some even worship the fish at local temples. But over the years, due to natural distress as well as habitat and demographic alterations, mahseer was reported to be declining in size and numbers and was feared to be in danger of extinction in some parts of the country. Indiscriminate fishing of brood and juvenile fish and the deteriorating ecological condition of its spawning and breeding grounds as a result of river valley projects, had placed the mahseer in danger of extinction. According to a 2010 report, the Golden Mahseer is estimated to have declined by more than 50 per cent in recent years and, without any intervention, the population might further dip to 80 per cent in the future.
Since the early 1970’s, species-protection initiatives in India have gained momentum but aquatic life has gained little attention from conservationists. One of the pioneering attempts in this area is the Mahseer Conservation Programme, which kick started in 1975, making it the longest running conservation effort by a private corporation in India, aimed at preserving a single species.
Taking cognisance of the alarming decline in the population of the mahseer, Tata Power set up a breeding centre at Lonavla, near Mumbai, as part of its eco-restoration and eco-development project for the lakes. Today, the project operates in seven lakes in the region and the catchment areas in the surrounding hills from where rainwater collects in reservoirs.
After carrying out thorough research and careful observation of the fish in its natural habitat, healthy mahseer were transported from its Himalayan habitat to the Lonavla facility. The fish needed to be acclimatised to the changed environs and higher temperatures. They also needed to be reared for three years, until they reached maturity and were ready to breed.
Mahseer is a difficult fish to breed in captivity due to its penchant for fresh, running water. After carrying out several experiments, biodiversity experts at the hatchery zeroed in on two species Rs the Deccan Mahseer and the Golden Mahseer. After the initial vigilant monitoring of the mahseer's behaviour, the first batch of eggs, approximately 14,000, was procured through a process known as dry stripping. These were artificially fertilised and about 10,000 were brought to maturity. This was the first step that helped turn the tide for the mahseer. Over the years, the project has gained momentum and has successfully produced in excess of 10 million seeds of mahseer.
Today, the project is the biggest breeding stock of mahseer in India, and produces four to five lakh mahseer seed every year. The hatchery also sends fish every year to rivers in a dozen states, including Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Assam, in an attempt to introduce the Golden Mahseer in other parts of the country. The project’s success with the Golden Mahseer initiative has encouraged the company to stretch its conservation efforts to cover three other species of the fish.
The entire mahseer conservation project has been documented in a monograph and is now extensively used by scientists involved in mahseer breeding and conservation programmes across India and in several South-East Asian countries. After the success of the project, Tata Power has extended training facilities to over 600 fishery scientists across India and have organised national workshops for senior scientists and policymakers to formulate recommendations for mahseer conservation.
The mahseer project continues to be one of the biggest conservation programmes in the country, promoting biodiversity, encouraging ecotourism, while breathing new life to what was a depleting wonder of the aqua world.
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