February 2016 | Jai Madan

A fish tale

The mahseer conservation programme centred around Tata Power's hydro plant at Walwhan in Lonavala, near Mumbai, has offered a lifeline to the endangered species

Tata Power’s mahseer conservation programme has offered a lifeline to the endangered species. It has substantially increased their numbers and provided the much-needed stock required for their reintroduction in places where they were earlier recorded by state fisheries departments in fresh water bodies across India.

The company has been dedicatedly working towards the ecological development and conservation of natural resources in the Western Ghats region, one of the important biodiversity hotspots of the world, in line with its core pillars of sustainability – ‘care for environment’ and ‘care for community’. These conservation efforts and conducive climatic conditions in and around Tata Power’s hydro plant at Walwhan dam in Lonavala, near Mumbai, make it an ideal location for the breeding and conservation of the endangered fish species. Conservation and survival of the mahseer fish is critical since it plays a crucial role in the preservation of our eco system and the health of the fish is important for the health of the big rivers in India.

  • The breeding period is during the monsoon season in July and August as the species require a lot of dissolved oxygen to breed. Brooders (parent fish) are caught from the specially made ponds for the brooders stock during the season, and fed twice a day with groundnut cake and rice bran mixture. "In any conservation project it is important to feed the fish with natural food, and also supplement it with nutritive food especially during the breeding season, "explains Vivek Vishwasrao, head, biodiversity, Tata Power. (Photographs: Tata Power archives)
  • The eggs are collected through a process called stripping that entails applying pressure on the belly of the females and then mixing it with milt (seminal fluid) stripped from the males in order to fertilise the eggs. (Photographs: Tata Power archives)
  • Despite the care and precautions taken, the fertilised eggs at times get infected. Spoiled eggs — easy to identify as they turn opaque white — need to be quickly removed with an ink dropper. (Photographs: Tata Power archives)
  • The fertilised eggs are put into a hatchery, where the temperature and oxygen levels are closely monitored. Running water and dissolved oxygen helps the eggs to mature and hatch — a process that takes anywhere between 72 to 96 hours. (Photographs: Tata Power archives)
  • The young ones are kept for 45 days (free swimming stage) until they reach 1cm in length (at this stage they are known as fries). After 45 days, when they grow to 2.5cm long fingerlings, they are transferred to a bigger hatchery. (Photographs: Tata Power archives)
  • Batches of 1,000 fries are packed into plastic bags filled with water and oxygen, and then packed in separate boxes. The fries have to reach their destinations within 24 hours in order to survive and flourish. (Photographs: Tata Power archives)
  • Loss of habitat, industrial and human pollution, indiscriminate fishing of brood stock, and the impact of river valley projects are some of the factors which led to the endangered status of the mahseer. (Photographs: Tata Power archives)
  • Counting, packing and transporting the fries to ensure they reach their destination — alive and swimming — is another specialised task. The respective state fisheries departments help in transporting the fries to various state hatcheries in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Assam. (Photographs: Tata Power archives)

The company has invested a lot of effort to preserve and improve the ecological condition of the six lakes as well as the surrounding natural habitat — an important factor which has contributed to the success of the conservation efforts over the last 40 years. Much to its credit, Tata Power’s conservation programme has till date produced more than 10 million mahseer seeds and distributed them all over India.

As part of its centenary celebrations last year, the company launched ‘Act for Mahseer’ — a three-pronged approach to educate, engage and empower mahseer lovers at the national-level — strengthening its over four-decade-old commitment to ensure that the largest member of the carp family thrives and glides majestically across India’s lakes and rivers.