Here's a copy of a presentation I made at an All-India Tourism Summit in Uttaranchal some years ago on invitation from the Govt. of Uttaranchal.
The theme of the meet was "Eco-tourism & the mountains."
Promotion of Angling activities as part of Eco tourism in Uttaranchal State
by Patrick Kerr
Tourism is in a position to play a major role in achieving this brief.
Our country needs no introduction on the world tourist map – we are already unique; The Taj Mahal, the Tiger, the Beaches of Goa, the Houseboats of Kashmir, the Ghats of Varanasi, Ayurvedic massage of Kerala … the list is vast.
However, when an international tourist thinks, "Trek in the Himalayas!" why is the spontaneous reaction "Nepal", when a group plans "Whitewater Rafting", the world thinks "Colorado, USA", just say "Skiing" and the mental image is "The Alps", "Wildlife Safaris" the reaction is, "Africa"?
All these activities are all available here in India, in Uttranchal! But what we need is effective marketing to raise awareness – a sustained publicity campaign highlighting these activities, quality destinations, backed with good infrastructure.
The mountains of Uttranchal give birth to the worlds most sacred river – the Ganga. The Ganga and its major tributaries, (the Yamuna, the Tons, Bhagirathi, Alaknanda), the Sarju and Kali - trace their origins to the mountains of Uttranchal. The state is also dotted with high-altitude lakes – Nainital, Bhim Tal, Sat Tal, Naukuchiyatal, Dodi Tal & Hemkund – being the better known ones.
There is tremendous scope for developing these waterways by encouraging a diverse set of activities – challenging, income generating, Eco-friendly and self-sustaining – activities programmed to involve a cross section of society with the common factor being progressive development.
Let me qualify this statement with a perspective of an unusual slice of the tourist pie – Game Fishing or 'Angling', as the sport is known as, is an activity not highly rated by any measure in this country. But study it carefully – at a macro level - You will be surprised to know that Game Fishing is a multi-billion-dollar industry. The benefits of this industry are reaped across the board,
– Huge industry for the manufacture & retail of specialized equipment, fishing tackle, clothing and accessories
– Maintaining quality environment
– Scientific research and development
– Forestry & commercial fish breeding
– Modern infrastructure
These are areas that have the potential of generating employment for the neediest segments of our society. Sadly, India's share of this segment of global business is currently negligible.
Uttaranchal has the advantage of already being a fairly well known angling destination – The Ganga and her tributary the Nayyar at Bayasghat. The Ram Ganga before it enters Corbett Park (Jim Corbett himself commands instant name recognisation all over the world). The legendary junction at Pancheshwar, the confluence of the Sarju and the Kali in Champawat. These three locations are internationally acknowledged as prime Mahseer (Barbus tor) waters. While Dodi Tal in Uttarkashi is famous for its Trout (Salmo trouto).
An angler develops a bond and affinity with nature.
It is time to share this experience.
Anglers are known to develop a set of morals and ethics that are sometimes above those laid down by law.
Responsible anglers impose self-written rules which they strictly follow, e.g. voluntary "catch & release" of fish, the use of "barb-less hooks", spinning yarns – "fishy" narratives of "the big one that got away"!
To illustrate this quality, let me share this with you; A few years ago, we, a group of anglers on the River Kali, Indians, Americans, Englishmen - an international mix - witnessed a local fisherman land a huge Mahseer. His tackle consisted of a nylon clothesline; a large hook baited with a small fish and weighed down in the water with a stone. The hooked fish, in prime condition, turned the scales to 19kgs. On our inquiring as to what he intended doing with his catch, the fisherman said he would sell the fish at the local mandi. "How much" was our next question and on receiving his reply, our group pooled in Rs.350.00, bought the fish and released it!
A point of interest is the tough & leathery tissue that makes up the mouth & lips of a Mahseer, anglers rarely injure these fish, and the use of barb-less hooks reduces this chance even further. While an Angling Permit usually allows the killing of fish caught with rod and line, today the angler seldom kills more than 2% of his catch. This 2% accounts for the camp kitchen – a few small, pan-sized fish (if any such requirement exists) and those fish killed due to freak injury caused while being hooked or injured during the landing.
"Catching a few fish by anglers does not alter the population of a river. It is the bombing, dynamiting, poisoning and wholesale netting of fish that degrades the eco-system of a river. The Eco-system that may require years to re-generate. Such mass destruction of fish – a valuable natural resource – is a terrible waste and brings advantage to a very few people. " (Quoting EP Gee)
In a healthy river, the fish is at the top of the food chain.
Fish are very intolerant of the slightest levels of pollution in water, water, which in turn, is the lifeline of human development and existance.
If we can sustain a healthy population of fish, we have our finger on the pulse of the health of the entire Eco-system related to the river.
Registered NGO's, such as the Environment & Anglers Association of Dehra Dun, are capable of organizing the activities of this niche tourism sector under one head by,
1. Officially maintaining records of fish caught & released. To help implement the tagging of fish released. Generate data on migration, growth & general health of fish.
2. Introducing a format for field notes for anglers to include general, scientifically and other relevant matter i.e. Conditions of the water, signs of pollution, etc.
3. Documentation of the sightings of exotic flora & fauna etc. compiled from these field notes.
4. Assist in converting sterile water for possible implementation of fish farming programs.
5. Assist at the grass-root level by suggesting methods of imparting basic education & training to locals, or, even by encouraging them to become guides and wardens.
6. Interact between the angling community and Government.
7. Be granted the custody of selected beats/stretches of rivers or lakes to patrol and monitor the Eco-system. Handled efficiently, positive results are guaranteed.
To achieve results, it is important that the angling & commercial fishing communities share their knowledge of the field and be allowed to interact as a partner, to provide raw data while getting inputs from various government departments. There is a lot that can be done to improve quality and the implementation of the following actions by the government will help.
1. Stop commercial netting of the spring-fed spawning streams and their confluence.
2. Monitor commercial fishing by strict implementation of laws on size/gauge of nets used, strict enforcement of demarcated areas under commercial fishing & setting up of a marketing chain/system to ensure that poached fish do not creep into the markets.
3. Provide hatcheries for local species of fish at strategic locations. Do you know that fewer than 5% of the natural spawn survives? Artificial breeding in the United Kingdom had a spawn survival rate of 75%; this figure is from data gathered during the 1870's! The hasty introduction of an exotic species can wipe out a natural species. And what, you may ask, is an exotic species? Any species not naturally available in the locality is an exotic.
(Dhikala Lake in Corbett Park, "Malli" an introduced exotic, has over-run the "Mahseer". Is this trend going to spread upstream into the Ram Ganga and wipe out the natural species? The large-scale introduction of "Aasla" fingerlings in most of the mountain streams is also a matter of concern. While harvesting "Aasla" is the contractor going to be overly concerned about the destruction of Mahseer or Trout also trapped in the net? Vyas Ghat has stopped producing large "Mahseer" as the Nayyar – a spawning stream – was given out on a netting contract. However, with thanks to the Uttaranchal Government, corrective action has since been a taken & positive results will manifest themselves over the next few years).
4. The compulsory incorporation of "Fish Ladders" in the construction of dams and barrages to ensure unhindered migration & spawning runs of the fish in their natural environment.
5. The installation of support systems for emergency medical and communication facilities. The field is a tough taskmaster, Leopards have walked through my camp, Sand Scorpions have been found in boots & socks, the rugged environment, slippery rocks, poisonous plants, insects & snakes, over exposure to the elements, … all these factors can cause grievous injury or serious illness. In such situations, it will be re-assuring for a tourist to know that help is readily available.
6. Firm but humane Policing and law enforcement – not harassment - as was the recent incident with the head of an Australian travel agency at Pancheshwar. We thank the authorities for their prompt action in handling this case.
7. Granting of Angling Permits for all permitted localities from a centralized point, say Dehra Dun, in addition, the Range Officer and Patwari of the town closest to the destinations should be granted powers to issue the necessary documents to discourage circumventing of the law!
8. To construction and/or upgrade the facilities of Heli-pads & Airports in far-flung areas. If such timesaving facilities are available, they will be used.
9. Infrastructure along the highways needs to be upgraded. Fuel pumps, clean, modern toilets, hygienic food and safe drinking water, rooms for overnight stay, facilities for garbage disposal & recycling should be available at convenient intervals.
10. Remote locations could well do with basic Eco-friendly campsites and rest houses or lodges.
11. Allow tourists the use of the unoccupied sections of Forest, PWD and Irrigation bungalows.
The organizational structure required for implementing such programs is already in place; we have the makings of a fruitful partnership; NGO's, the Private Sector and Governmental support with a focus on quality.
And quality largely depends on two things – not necessarily linked: what one brings to the field and what one finds there.
It is also important to understand that,
1. The enjoyment of wildlife and ecology is in proportion to its "naturalness."
2. The most highly valued destination is where one can choose to be alone or with a group of chosen friends.
3. The most highly valued sport for an angler is a fully-grown wild fish in natural waters.
This is just an example of the potential that a tiny segments – angling – is capable of. With basic infrastructure & facilities in place, there will be an immediate spin-off into related tourist activities.
We need to approach this program with an open mind.
We have the potential to achieve so much, whether in the field of Eco-tourism, adventure activities, bird – watching or photography; generating incomes, enhancing the local economy; in the education and involvement of a future generation in environmental activities – basically putting ourselves on the world tourist map as a must-visit destination… and, more importantly, as a repeat destination – thanks to quality experienced on every front during a first visit.
All this is in our hands – we have the knowledge, the skill, and the desire to achieve great things for this country –
The burning question is, what are we – as a team – going to do about it?