By Adity Choudhury
How does it feel to be humbled by a species, that appears harmless, in the realisation that humankind is not as powerful as it regards itself to be?
At the same time, we marvel at nature’s brilliance. In this context, we need to ask ourselves a fundamental question – how much do we really know about our natural world?
Let’s meet the trout, quite a unique species in the world of fishes. Predatory, even cannibalistic, they belong to the Salmonidae family.
Interacting with Pioneeress Lyngdoh and HamekaPapang, Slate got an idea about the species, including the long journey from Shergaon in West Kameng district, Arunachal Pradesh and the challenges of starting trout culture in Meghalaya.
While Papang, Superintendent, Department of Fisheries, has worked in this sector for 13 years, Lyngdoh, Fishery Officer, has been working with the department for seven years.
Introducing the Trout!
While there have been numerous, albeit unsuccessful attempts to breed this particular species in the state before, better facilities within a multi-stakeholder initiative have created a buzz in the city… all because of the ongoing sale at the trout farm, located at Cleve Colony. The management has, for the first time in the state, produced and sold about 300 kgs, priced at Rs 800 per kg.
Did you know the species existed here during British Era? They would rear the species at the farm for recreational purpose, i.e., angling. The place has been renovated keeping in mind the right conditions for the seeds to thrive – a cold climate, constantly running fresh water, and the right water temperature, to name a few.
Lyngdoh said, “It is unfortunate that there is little to zero documentation about the farm during the British era. They constructed small canals and got trout seeds. Once they grew, they would use them for angling.”
“The records available show that trout culture commenced from 1992 by the department, until 2002. In the year 1997-98, they tried to propagate their population further through breeding, but it was not successful because of lack of facilities,” he added, stating, “At present, two more growth out raceways have been constructed, in addition to renovating the earlier ones.”
Given trout breeding is demanding, time consuming and requires proper care, an over-house will be constructed, among other facilities.
Papang said, “We have to be careful and ensure right conditions for the trout, without which, there can only be hurdles.”
Following a brief hiatus, the department decided to breed this species once again. From 2002 to 2018, they tried to culture the mahseer, the indigenous fish of Meghalaya, known locally as kha saw. This species is also found in the farm.
In 2020, they received a sponsored scheme from the Centre – the Blue Revolution: Integrated Development and Management of Fisheries – a total of Rs 45 lakh was sanctioned, with 20 lakh for revamping facilities and 25 lakh to procure the fish seeds, the feed and fishing equipment relevant to this culture.
The present stock has travelled all the way from Shergaon, reaching Shillong on April 15, 2022. Through careful rearing for a period of (approx) seven to eight months, the trout seeds showed promising growth.
Breeding trouts is not without its fair share of obstacles… one that affected the mortality of the species.
Speaking on how the monsoon affected the department efforts, Lyngdoh said, “Around June, we faced problems in the management of the farm. Turbid water became a cause of concern for us, as they got inside the raceway.”
Adding to his sentiment, Papang said, “Trouts require clean, clear and transparent water, and we have to always keep this in mind.”
With a dedicated, small team of experts and locals, this is being taken care of. Regular cleaning is imperative for their survival.
They got 8000 seeds from Arunachal Pradesh. Turbidity resulted in the death of (approx) 4000 to 4500 seeds.
Additionally, being cannibalistic in nature, trouts grow aggressive. “They don’t grow uniformly. Some grow faster while others take their time. Small ones are always eaten by the big ones,” Lyngdoh said, adding how this resulted in more deaths. About 600-800trouts perished because of this.
Further, many died on the way to Shillong… a journey of 18 hours. 700 to 900 died during transportation, alone.
Challenges of Trout Rearing
This meant that the survivors had to be taken care of, numbering over1400 seeds, and the department has sprung into action.
Clean, continuous running water is ensured through a filtration process. That said, making it effective is the need of the hour, something both Lyngdoh and Papang focused on.
The famed monsoon season of Meghalaya, therefore, is not conducive for their survival. Regulation of turbid water through the filtration and its subsequent success will be assessed in 2023.
Trouts are a cold-water species. The other challenge is the lean period (February to April) when the nearby stream located in the forest dries up during these months. Local residents draw water from here, further leading to shortage of water supply.
The management plans to regulate this water by developing a re-circulatory system through the water filtration unit… one that also ensures the survival of the species during the summer season.
A Possible Success Story!
On the future of trout rearing in the state, Lyngdoh said, “Most people are unaware of trout culture. There is the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) scheme to create awareness. We have to look at feasibility in a pragmatic manner. The availability of constant running water, for instance, remains a challenge and we have to devise ways to counter this. Trouts require running water 24/7.”
Community level workshops and trainings are held regularly on the importance of this species, particularly from the nutritional value. Being rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, protein and vitamin, this species improves the human brain.
Further, entrepreneurship can open employment opportunities in the fisheries sector. Needless to say, trout rearing has the potential towards new opportunities in the state.
Walking around the trout farm, one wonders about the beauty of co-existence.
If history has taught us anything about the man-nature relationship, it is that humankind’s dependence on nature is inevitable; the deeper concern is human arrogance, often resulting in nature ensuring balance.
Israeli historian, Yuval Noah Harari, in his celebrated book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, wrote, “We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine.”
Trout rearing in Meghalaya may show the way ahead. Should we not, then, work in harmony?