Fishing community in polluted waters of Kashmir's Dal Lake struggle for survival

The tranquil waters have become crowded with motorboats, disturbing the delicate ecosystem and depleting fish stocks.
Last Updated 03 March 2024, 13:24 IST

SrinagarThe existence of indigenous fishermen community of Dal, here, who have depended on fishing for generations, now stand at the risk of marginalisation due to the disturbance of the equilibrium between preserving ‘tradition’ and catering to the needs of urban development.

The Lake, a jewel cherished by locals and tourists alike, has for generations been the source of livelihood for thousands of fishermen families within Dal and its peripheries. However, the equilibrium that once existed between preserving tradition and catering to the needs of urban development has begun to falter.

As tourism flourished, the demands for modern amenities surged with luxury houseboats dotting the lake's perimeter, while hotels came up along its shores, altering the landscape and challenging the fishermen's way of life.

The tranquil waters have become crowded with motorboats, disturbing the delicate ecosystem and depleting fish stocks. Pollution has tainted the lake, choking its aquatic life and threatening the livelihoods of the fishermen who depended on its bounty.

Fishing has been passed down through generations and has been one of the major contributors to the food ecosystem of the Valley and is the primary source of sustenance for the fishermen community. However, now the community faces a severe existential crisis because of various policies as well as negligence by the government and society alike.

The quality of lake water has worsened because of the untreated sewage from various sources like houseboats and municipal sewers in the last two decades. According to official figures in 2017, a total of 44 million litres of sewage were being released into the lake daily, with one million litres originating from houseboats.

It has hugely diminished the fish population, crucial for fishermen’s sustenance. Abdul Rehman Dar, a fisherman says because of the sewage, the fish in the lake have declined.

“The sewage kills the seeds of the fish. In these circumstances how will fish grow and what will we catch? There has been a significant fall in the size of fish, with the earlier catch being four to five kilograms, now reduced to barely one or two kilograms” he said.

“Due to the decline in the catch, we purchase fish from farms but the customers are not prepared to pay fair prices for it. This has led to a drastic decline in our income,” Dar rued.

Terming the current situation in the Lake as a man-made disaster, Ajaz Rasool, a former hydraulic engineer, who has worked on many conservation projects on Dal said unless steps are not taken to check pollution, improve catchment areas “it is going to affect each one of us be it a fisherman, a farmer or any other person.”

While the beautification of Dal is thriving - with proper roads, footpaths, and new shops opening to cater to the growing population of tourists – the lake itself is slowly dying, and with that, the fishermen community is also slowly being removed from their ancestral fishing grounds.

(Published 03 March 2024, 13:24 IST)

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