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13th December '2009
Rearing Trout for Export
 

Once upon a time, the Trout was supposed to be something for the elite only and that too after some tough angling. Trout used to be available only in high mountain streams and one had to spend hours to catch a few with luck and skill. Trout fishing in the wild had become an important past time for the foreign travellers in Kashmir. However, now trout is available to a common citizen at Rs. 150 a kilo on every Saturday. People can buy and enjoy this unique fish, thanks to the efforts of the Fisheries Department. The commercial trout farming was started only in 1985-86 at Kokernag with the assistance of the European Economic Community. The project was successfully completed due to untiring efforts of Dr.Nisar Ahmed Jan, the former Commissioner Fisheries. However, Kokernag is the sole commercial farm of its size in the entire valley. The department claims it to be the largest one in Asia. This may be debatable.

Trout has an interesting history in Kashmir. It is said that the first consignment of eggs about 10,000 were sent by the Duke of Bedford to Maharaja of Kashmir in 1899 but these perished on the way. In 1900 a new batch arrived from Scotland and were reared by a keen angler, Frank J Mitchel, at his carpet factory located in Bagh-i-Dilawar Khan in Srinagar and at Dachigam before being freed in the streams. But of the five original species of trout, only the rainbow and brown varieties adapted to Kashmir's rivers where temperatures fluctuate between 4C and 24C. In most of the mountain streams it is the brown variety which thrives being very hardy and ferocious. So far the department has been rearing the rainbow variety in the commercial farms. They have recently been successful in breeding the brown variety in captivity.

Trout

However, trout fish farming in Kashmir is still in its infancy as compared to Europe and some South American countries especially Chile. I came to know this in 2005 during my visit to the shrimp and salmon processing factory of IFFCO, a group of 17 food stuff processing and manufacturing companies in Sharjah. This factory has been importing shrimps and salmon from Chile and China. After processing, these are deep frozen and re-exported to USA. On my invitation, a group of experts from this group visited Kashmir in 2005. They were taken to Kokernag and Laribal (Dachigam) farms by the officers of the Fisheries Department. The Kokernag farm did impress them but only to a little extent. They mentioned that the trout rearing farms in Chile were 5 to 6 kilometres long. In fact, they suggested that some officers of Fisheries in Kashmir as well as from the Horticulture Departments should visit Chile to see how those people were rearing trout as also growing the apples in their orchards. They are employing the latest technologies to produce and harvest some of the best products. In Kashmir things appeared somewhat primitive. However, the trout produced by Chile did not taste very good to me. It appeared somewhat bland. Compared to this, the Kashmiri trout, introduced by the British in 1900, are among the world's healthiest and tastiest fish because they live in oxygen-rich, snow-fed streams and even in captivity these are reared in similar conditions. In Chile, the fillets of trout are huge, almost a kilo in weight. In Kashmir, we have dinner plate size trout ideal for 5-star hotels. In fact, I had the opportunity of tasting similar type of fish in Annecy, France and it tasted as good as the Kashmiri fish. Even in 2005, the IFFCO group was prepared to import trout from Kashmir. We did approach the airlines but it had to go via Delhi and needed a cold chain. There was no support organisation to undertake the job. The IFFCO were ready to lift and market the trout in Dubai and other parts of the Gulf. We had only to provide it in a suitable form ready for export. According to these experts, we had to install a de-gutting machine, a deep freezer, and a small plant to manufacture dry ice. The entire paraphernalia would not cost much. May be about few million rupees. The trout had to be de-gutted, deep frozen, packed in dry ice in thermo-cole containers, and shipped by air to Dubai. The market would be for hundreds of tons. At present, the entire production is about 120 tons or so. Unfortunately, the project could not be pursued due to lack of interest on the part of the State government as well as the absence of any direct flights. Now that there is a direct flight to Dubai which is facing problem of “insufficient” load, it is the right time to revive the possibility of trout export to Gulf and beyond.

The first and foremost task would be to increase production to a level sufficient for export. One cannot think of large scale export with just a hundred tons of production. In fact, given the will and the expertise, it should not be difficult to set up over a dozen farms like the one established with EEC assistance in Kokernag. We need snow fed streams, some land, and trout feed. The department has a large feed mill in Kokernag and have placed orders for a second mill. The rivers and streams where such farms can be set up are Lidder valley, Veshav and Rembiara, Ferozepur stream, and so on. The Fisheries department has already succeeded in setting up over 500 carp rearing farms in the private sector. However, the trout is a delicate and a sensitive fish and it will not be advisable to completely privatise trout farming. It can develop some disease which can destroy the whole lot. However, it should not be difficult to set up the farms in private-public partnership with technical know how and expertise rendered by the government. The government can once again seek EEC technical assistance or go straight to Scotland, the original supplier of the seed to Kashmir. The rainbow variety has been obtained from Denmark and it were the Danish who had given assistance including the technical expertise for the Kokernag farm. We can go back to them if they are still willing to help?

Once the production is assured, the next step would be marketing the product. We already have interested parties in the Gulf region and can even think beyond once we stabilise our set up. Rearing and export of trout represents one more avenue of productive engagement. Not only is it a very clean and environment friendly activity but can be a major opening for employment. The state planners need to give rightful priority to these sectors of our economy. Let us hope someone is listening?

 
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