The golden mahseer has received a new lease of life through the exertions of Tata Power, in what can be described as the biggest Indian conservation effort after Project Tiger.
Indiscriminate fishing of brood and juvenile fish, and the deteriorating ecological condition of its spawning and rearing grounds as a result of river valley projects, had placed the mahseer in danger of extinction. Concerned about the decline in numbers of the mahseer in Indian rivers and reservoirs, S Moolgaonkar, the late managing director of Tata Motors, and SP Manaktala, former managing director of Tata Power, approached CV Kulkarni, the director of fisheries for Maharashtra, in 1970 to support the rehabilitation of the species.
In 1971, SN Ogale (now retired) joined Tata Power; he had a postgraduate degree in zoology and fisheries science. Spearheading the company’s mahseer project, he began breeding the fish artificially.
After studying available literature and observing the fish in its natural habitat, Tata Power transported healthy mahseer from its Himalayan habitat to the company’s facility at Lonavala near Mumbai. 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.
The first batch of approximately 14,000 eggs was procured through a process known as dry stripping. These were artificially fertilised and 10,000 were brought to maturity. Since then, the mahseer project has gathered the momentum required to sustain itself. Today, the hatchery in Lonavala has the capacity to hatch over half-a-million eggs at a time, and it has successfully produced 400,000 semi-fingerlings of golden mahseer in the last five years.
Tata Power’s success with the golden mahseer initiative has encouraged it to stretch its conservation efforts to cover three other species of the fish. Attempts to introduce the golden mahseer elsewhere in the country have seen encouraging results. On an average, Tata Power breeds over 1 to 1.5 lakh mahseer fry each year and gives them gratis to many states in India.
The mahseer project has promoted biodiversity and encouraged ecotourism, while giving a fresh lease of life to one of the most magnificent of the world’s water wonders.