Mahseer conservation in Kodagu dates back to June 1985 after a mahseer weighing 44 kgs was landed by a member Mr. C. S. Ponnappa in the Cauvery at Valnoor. This feat was discussed and elaborated at a committee meeting of Coorg Wildlife Society which then took a vow to protect this iconic fish species from destructive fishing practices that were practiced by the locals. The Coorg Wildlife Society then decided to take a river stretch on lease from the Fisheries Department of Karnataka. In the same year i.e.1985, a lease for 25 km. of the river stretch (from Siddapur Bridge to Kushalnagar Bridge) was obtained. This river stretch has been continuously leased by the CWS since that year to this date. This stretch has been recognized around the world as a great success story in Mahseer conservation.
During the initial days of protecting the leased river stretch, importance was given to preventing dynamiting, netting and poisoning of the river to catch fish. The Coorg Wildlife Society also prevented river bank encroachments which was another major threat to the river and its ecology. Sport fishing was promoted to encourage people to enjoy fishing as a sport. The fish caught were allowed to be carried home. Locals using handlines and bamboo poles to fish were also encouraged as they provided us with useful information about fish poaching using destructive practices.
Ranching was done in the early 1990’s to restock stretches which were not recovering with healthy fish population. The fingerlings were brought from Tata Electric Power’s hatcheries near Lonavala. Following this, strict catch and release fishing was given importance and restrictions were placed on the number of fish that could be carried home (not more than two fish weighing less than two kgs could be carried home). Large fish weighing more than 30 kgs were being landed more frequently by anglers who came from all over the world seeking the thrill of sport fishing.
RIVER WATCHERS AND GHILLIES
The number of river watchers was increased to ensure better patrolling of the river stretch and this saw a big decline in dynamiting and poisoning. The Coorg Wildlife Society also formulated strict catch and release guidelines for anglers. The Ghillies were trained by professional anglers to handle the fish after it was hooked and landed. This has resulted in fewer casualties post release.
In March 2011, the largest Mahseer ever to be caught using a Rod and Reel weighing 130 lbs. was landed by a British angler. This was the best moment for all the effort and hard work that had gone into conserving this iconic fish.
ORANGE FIN MAHSEER
With a healthy and breeding population of Blue Fin Mahseer, Coorg Wildlife Society is now concentrating on reviving the population of the Orange Fin Mahseer. This species has been declared critically endangered by IUCN. The Orange fin has been present in the leased river stretch and is still being occasionally caught by anglers. Efforts are on to capture Orange Fin Mahseer to start a captive breeding program and restock the river with this endemic fish of the Cauvery. In the summer of 2019 three orange fin Mahseer were caught and are currently being acclimatized to tank conditions. The DNA samples have been sent for analysis to be sure of the right species before they are shifted to the hatchery.
THE ROLE OF THE FISHERIES DEPARTMENT
The Fisheries Department of Karnataka has been a pillar of support to the Coorg Wildlife Society in Mahseer conservation from the year1985 by giving the river stretch on lease to us. They keep us updated with the latest government policies. The officers from the department visit the sites of work and provide us with technical support in all our efforts.
THE HATCHERY AT HARANGI, KODAGU
The Mahseer hatchery in Harangi near Kushalnagar is maintained by Fisheries Department. This is the first of its kind in South India and the only hatchery which has been successful in breeding Mahseer. The Society plans to send all the Humpback/orange fin mahseer caught for the captive breeding program to the department run hatchery in the near future.
FUTURE PLANS OF THE SOCIETY
The society is committed to protecting the riverine ecosystem keeping the Mahseer as the flagship species and we hope to ensure that the now critically endangered Humpback/ Orange fin mahseer will be reintroduced to the river in near future.