As Pakistan gets big on trout farming, why sustainability should be the need of the hour for farmers who practice it-Living News, Firstpost
Trout farms are booming in the country’s mountain provinces, but there is a need to be more aware of their environmental consequences.
By Atika Rehman and PM Baigal
Qasim Shah, a farmer in the mountainous northern Pakistani province of Gilgit-Baltistan, has no regrets about giving up farming.
âTrout farming is more lucrative than traditional crops. Crops and fruits have become too sensitive to the climate and carry the risk of losing investments, âsaid Shah, who is also vice president of the Private Fish Farms Association in Ghizer district.
Trout farms are mushrooming in Gilgit-Baltistan, where rapidly warming glaciers form reservoirs of cold water – fertile ground for trout. Nearly 200 fish farms have been established across the province in less than 10 years, and new farms appear every month. Fish farms are also booming in neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the government hopes to create jobs. On each of these farms, up to 20,000 trout are raised to be sold as food.
The ministry is targeting 500 farms over the next five years.
As climate change threatens food security, traditional farmers in Gilgit-Baltistan are switching to trout, which they believe is a more sustainable source of income. Across South Asia, farmers are adjusting to declining yields and uncertain incomes – some, like Shah, are looking beyond cultivation.
âI won 500,000 Pakistani rupees [USD 3,285] profit at the end of the last season despite the coronavirus pandemic. This season, my goal is much higher, âhe added. Shah started fish farming in 2018 with an investment of over Rs 1 million. He set up a small hotel near the farm to serve fried trout to tourists and locals. If the government provides transportation and packaging facilities, he said, it expects to export the fish to China.
âThe land in my village is very fertile for crops and fruits, but irregular rains and other climatic implications such as frequent pest attacks have spoiled the produce over the years,â Shah said.
The government supports trout farming and private fish farms. In April, the federal government allocated 112 million rupees (US $ 730,000) to promote fish farms in the mountain provinces. The Ministry of National Food Security and Research said the goal is to develop shrimp and fish farms in Pakistan that will create jobs, increase food insecurity and increase export earnings.
Support includes training and awareness sessions on acquiring land for fish farming, helping farmers obtain bank loans for private hatcheries and providing fish feed.
Fears of pollution and denial
Untreated effluents from some hatcheries flow directly into the Indus River and streams which are a source of fresh drinking water for communities.
Ali Asghar, an officer in the province’s fisheries department, confirmed that “water from some farms flows mainly to rivers.”
âIf the farmers are careless, it can pollute the drinking water,â Asghar said, while dismissing the high levels of pollution in the river. No environmental impact study or assessment has been carried out since fish farms began to develop in the province. In 2014, a study of water sources by the province’s Environmental Protection Agency found that only 22% met World Health Organization standards.
Another official said the department had received complaints from areas where residents directly used water from farms for drinking. Requesting anonymity, he said that the freshwater sources in this area are contaminated “not only from these farms, but also from the waste from specially built hotels near the farms.”
Karim Johar, Research Officer in the Fisheries Department, said: “Our goal is to raise awareness on how to farm trout and protect the environment.” He said The third pole: “We even closed a few farms – including a government hatchery – from which we received complaints of water pollution.” During the past year, the department recorded 96 violations related to fish farms and imposed fines totaling 100,000 rupees (US $ 649).
Johar said the fisheries department in each district monitors activities and educates farmers on sustainable practices. The training includes advice on farm management, structure of fish ponds, water concentration, feed supply, water hygiene and safety and environmental sensitivity.
âThe fish feed or waste from these farms is not important enough to affect the environment on a large scale or to dangerously contaminate rivers,â Johar said. He added, “The waves and flow of these rivers are so powerful that they naturally filter through any small level. [of] contamination.”
But as fish farms expand in Pakistan, concerns about pollution and sustainable practices are increasing.
Barkat Ali, who lives in Birgal village, Ghizer district, said waste from around 30 large and small fish farms established in one village was draining the waste directly into the Ghizer River – a tributary of the Indus River. .
âThis drainage could contaminate drinking water if proper action is not taken,â he said.
Farmer Qasim Shah, however, rejected the allegations. âWe are responsible and very sensitive to the environment. We are taking all measures to avoid pollution, âhe said. He said farmers do not use chemicals in fish feed and are “very strict about bedding”.
The environmental impact of fish feed
In recent years, large-scale fish farming has been criticized for threatening wild fish populations. Large commercial fish farms demand that tons of wild fish be caught in the oceans and made into fish food.
Farid Ahmad Jan, fisheries and aquaculture specialist at Karakoram International University, said The third pole that at present, farmers in Gilgit-Baltistan are using discarded fish in wholesale markets. He said: “It does not make financial sense to invest in catching live fish for fish feed because it will drive up the price of trout.”
Risks and monitoring of fish farms in Pakistan
Common environmental concerns with fish farms include the build-up of nutrients and effluent and the spread of disease to local fisheries, according to a report by the NGO Global Aquaculture Alliance. âNutrient build-up occurs when there is a high density of fish in an area. Fish produce waste, and their waste has the potential to accumulate in the surroundings. This can deplete the water of oxygen, creating algae blooms and dead spots, âthe report says.
He highlighted the effects of the use of antibiotics on the ecosystem around the enclosures, including on wild fish. He also raised concerns about the escape of non-native fish, which could compete with wild fish for food, potentially displacing native species.
Jan said it was absolutely necessary to educate the owners of private farms. He referred to a recent incident in Ghizer, where âthree tons of trout died on a private farm because the bottom of the enclosure was not properly cleanedâ.
âThese farms are built very close to each other and all the water channels are connected. If a disease breaks out in one of them, it quickly spreads to neighboring farms, âJan said.
âRight now the focus is on promoting trout farms and farmers are jumping at the chance because it is a lucrative business. But they have to listen to the experts if they want to farm trout in a sustainable way. “
Jan also said trout farms in Pakistan could help protect trout populations if local demand could be met by farmed fish rather than wild fish. âThe province’s trout populations will be wiped out in 10 years if nothing is done to protect them now,â he said. âFor the moment, trout farms are aimed at the elite because their catches are expensive. As a result, locals head straight to rivers and streams to catch trout and deplete the stock. “
Raza Haider, regional conservation officer at WWF, said owners of trout farms in Pakistan must keep environmental challenges in mind in their operations. âWe need both a healthy environment and food,â he said.
The Third Pole is a multilingual platform dedicated to promoting information and discussion on the Himalayan watershed and the rivers that originate from it. This report was originally posted on thethirdpole.net and has been reproduced here with permission.