Nov 1, 2014

MAHSEERS as a World-famous game fish

Mahseer is acclaimed as a world famous outstanding game and food fish of India. As a sport fish, it provides unparalleled recreation to anglers from all over the world, better than salmon. It is known as tiger in waters, because of the fight it musters to wriggle off the hook. Anglers come to the Cauvery River in southern India in search of these mighty mahseer.

In Northern Europe, you have the leaping salmon. In Russia and Mongolia, you have the ferocious taimen. In North America, the inscrutable muskellunge. And in South America, the humongous arapaima. These are some of the biggest and most challenging river fish you can find and international anglers are willing to pay big money to pit wits with them. In parts of South and South-East Asia, there is a large-scaled fish that can match or even surpass the strength and stamina of these fish.

For some, this fish has no equal. Half carp and half barbell, it thrives in the fast currents of rocky rivers, and can shoot up tall rapids and even small waterfalls. When hooked by an angler, it can fight for hours before it succumbs – if the angler is lucky enough not to have his line broken or hook straightened out!

In the past, mahseer formed a substantial natural fishery in the major riverine and lacustrine ecosystems of India. In commercial fisheries it occupies an important position for its good quality. For the fishermen mahseer is of considerable importance because of its large size. As a food fish, it is highly esteemed and fetches the high market price. The mahseer (tor tambroides’ and ‘tor Douronensis), known in Malaysia as ikan kelah - Red Finned Mahseer, Ikan Kelah Merah/ Merah Bara from Pahang/Terengganu and Ikan Kelah Merah Rebung from Kelantan, Semah/ Empurau from Sarawak, Pelian from Sabah, Kelah Hijau/ Kejor/Tengas - Malaysian, Semah/ Garing from Sumatra Indonesia, Blue Thai Mahseer from Thailand, Golden Burmese from Burma. In the Mekong basin lives the Chinese Mahseer (Tor sinensis). 

In India and Myanmar, you have the Golden Mahseer (Tor putitora and Tor tor)are large cyprinids inhabiting the clear, pristine and fast flowing waters of Asia, from the cool waters of Himalayan streams to the tropical rivers of South East Asian jungles. Rapid development in the watersheds within the natural range of many Tor species habitats, particularly the spawning grounds, is increasing pressure and threatening their survival. This has resulted in depletion of natural stocks and consequently some species have become rare, threatened and/or endangered. In view of their conservation value and the aquaculture potential, there are concerted efforts amongst researchers, developers, planners and conservationists and governments all across Asia to enhance the natural populations in rivers and natural water bodies.

Day (1878) believed that mahseer constituted only one species. Hora (1940) confirmed the validity of six different species. A recent critical study on the subject by Menon (1992) confirmed 6 valid species. He has, however, described a new species from the Darna River (Godavari drainage) at Deolali, Nashik District of Maharashtra, and named it Tor kulkarnii, which he describes as a dwarf cognate of Tor khudree. Preserntly seven valid species are recognized for India:

Scientific Name ....................... Common Name
Tor putitora (Ham.) -------------- Golden or putitora mahseer
Tor tor (Ham.) ------------------- Turiya or tor mahseer
Tor khudree (Sykes) -------------- Deccan or khudree mahseer
Tor mussullah (Sykes) ------------ Humpback or mussullah mahseer
Tor kulkarnii ---------------------- Dwarf mahseer
Tor progeneius (McClelland) ------- Jungha of the Assamese
Tor mosal (Sykes) ---------------- Copper or mosal mahseer

In addition to the above, three sub-species, viz., Tor mosal mahanadicus, Tor khudree malabaricus and Tor khudree longispinis are considered by Desai (2002) as valid species, with some reservations. Different species of mahseer occupy different ecosystems ranging from tropical waters where summer temperatures reach 35°C, to sub-Himalayan regions, where the temperatures fall to 6°C. Similarly, they occur in streams hardly above sea level and are also found at an altitude of 2000 m above sea level. Jhingran and Sehgal (1978) remarked that the occurrence and distribution of mahseer is controlled by the prevailing water temperature of the streams and not by the altitude.

Mahseers were considered as carnivorous and slow growing and thus unsuitable for fish culture. However, a careful study of the feeding habits of mahseer indicating that it is omnivorous has dispelled the notion that mahseer are carnivorous. Studies on the anatomical adaptations of the alimentary canal system also confirm that mahseer are omnivorous. 

Tripathi (1995) suggested the inclusion of mahseer in polyculture, cage culture and for river ranching and has stated that mahseer would not compete with mrigal (Cirrhinus mrigala) and the common carp. The importance of mahseers as a World-famous game fish is well known. The group comes in a spectrum of colours from deep burnt copper, through gold, silver, dark black, and inhabit different rivers through out the length and breadth of India, Pakistan, Burma, Bangladesh Srilanka, and even Thailand, (Thomas, 1897). Among the seven different recorded species (viz. Tor putitora, T. mussulah, T.khudree, T mosal, T. progeneius, T. tor and Acrossocheilus hexangonolepis). Tor putitora or golden mahseer is one of the most-sought after species providing the main fishery in the uplands all along the Himalayan belt extending from Kashmir in the north-west to Sadiya in the north-east. 

The fish is also known as Greyhound or the thick-lipped mahseer and has been observed to attain the weight of 70-80 kg. (Misra, 1962). Anglers regard golden mahseer as one of the finest sport-fish and it is a source of recreation to innumerable sportsmen both Indian & Foreigner Thomas, 1897 in his famous book " The Rod in India" stated that pound for pound mahseer is far superior to ‘lordly salmon’ in sporting qualities. To the local fishermen too, mahseers have been of considerable importance because of their large size, hardy texture, high commercial value and longer shelf life.