Ray of hope for rare fish

BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOT

Ray of hope for rare fish

‘Hullugende’, a rare variety of fish, is endemic to the Western Ghats. What comes as a ray of hope for this fish are the efforts being made by a team led by Prof Basavaraj from Mangalore’s College of  Fisheries to document the habitat and other characteristics of the fish, reports Rajesh Shrivana.

Ever heard of hullugende? You may not have, because this variety of fish is not seen anywhere else, apart from the streams, rivulets and waters of the Wester Ghats.

This rare fish variety is a herbivore, and is on the verge of extinction. It is endemic to the Western Ghats, and if it disappears from here, it is as good as extinct.

This species just goes to show the biodiversity of the Western Ghats region, which encompasses Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

It is difficult to even start to estimate the number of species this hotspot is home to. While the planet is home to 25,000 varieties of fish (by a rough estimate), India is home to 2,163 varieties. There 750 freshwater fish varieties and 1,413 coastal varieties. As many as 297 varieties of freshwater fishes can be found in the Western Ghats.

According to experts, at least one-third of the fishes available in the Western Ghats are on the verge of extinction. This hullugende is also called haragi by local people, and can be considered similar to rohu and katla varieties. Botanically called puntius pulchellus, hullugende variety feeds on grass (as the name in Kannada suggests).

Earlier, prior to the construction of the Tungabhadra dam in 1943, the river was known for hullugende fishing. After the construction, the occurrence of the fish has dropped.

According to a report that was published back in 1964-65, fisheries involving hullugende dropped to less than one per cent. The species was declared endangered by the IUCN in 2012.

There are many reasons for the disappearance of this fish. One of the main reasons is habitat loss. Another is expansion of agricultural land and the use of insecticides.

What has brought fresh hope for this breed of fish is the fact that N Basavaraj, an expert from Mangalore’s College of Fisheries, and his team has conducted a study between 2010 and 2012, and has shown that this rare variety has not quite disappeared; the team has shown that the fish is still present in the waters of the Tunga and the Anjanapura dam.

However, the numbers are not remarkable. There have been past records when eight-kilo-worth of hullugende has been fished out of the Tungabhadra. Today though, that has dropped to between half a kg and 1.8 kg.

The fish has also been found in the tributaries of Krishna, Ghataprabha and Malaprabha.

A project to conserve this variety under the Rashtreeya Krishi Vikasa Yojane (RKVY) has been implemented. Napier grass that cattle graze on is also the variety of grass that this fish feeds on. Apart from ensuring that these fish spawn in the reservoirs and other water bodies, this fish should also be conserved in the stepwells of temples and Maths, says Prof Basavaraj.

Steps for conservation

Masheer and hullugende varieties should be bred in parks, Maths and temple ponds. Awareness programmes are crucial. There needs to be adequate legislation to check pollution of water bodies. Also, steps need to be taken to ensure that dynamite is not used in the vicinity of water bodies.

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