When a tank of trout fish went on wheels for the first time to be delivered within around fifteen kilometers of distance, Mushtaq Ahmad Kana felt like his children were being taken away.
Two years ago, in Ishbar area of Nishat, Kana had turned the fountain in his garden into a pond to rear trout fish. It was the end of the summer season. Kana’s house is at the bottom of Dachigam National Park and the freshwater supply for his fish pond comes from Dagwan Nallah as it flows through the park.
As soon as his fish started growing, Kana started a small business which he named “Trout on Wheels”. He, along with his sons, started selling trout fish across Kashmir in two vans and even delivering fish at homes.
As the market demand widened, Kana, 50, also expanded the supply chain and tied with twenty-five other fish farmers in different parts of Kashmir including Ganderbal and Budgam.
In August 2018, Kana, who has been working in the fisheries department for the last twenty-four years, brought 5000 seeds of trout fish to his home to start farming. “It was not about money, I wanted to provide a source of marketing to the farmers who had no source for the same,” he said.
Kana said he wanted his sons to become active and not just play games on their phones. Aqib Mushtaq, Kana’s elder son, has been handling the work related to the Trout On Wheels while the younger one, Zaid Mushtaq would look after the accounts with other employees. “My children seem happy after we started this business,” he said.
Kana would load his two vans with a huge tank full of water and live trout fish in the morning – an oxygen cylinder attached to it to provide the fish with oxygen to keep them alive – to deliver them at the doorsteps of people within the range of ten to fifteen kilometers.
While Kana was feeding fish at his home and cleaning the pond, his son Aqib at a distance of thirteen km at Rajbagh area of Srinagar had reached with his delivery consignment.
His trout fish pond has a grape tree over it for giving shade and around two to three pipes for fresh water supply. When Kana was throwing feed into the pond, a huge number of fish rushed for the meal.
After feeding the fish and draining out some water from the pond, Kana wore his rubber boots over blue jeans and jumped into the pond with fishnet to clean it. “Ponds need cleaning every three-four days,” he said.
He would catch some and shift the fish to the small pond next to the big one.
A small pond, with less but cleaner water, reveals the perfect appearance of trout shining under the sunlight; yellow-green trout swimming in different directions, with a pink stripe running down their sides and tiny black dots on their backs and fins.
Trout is an exotic fish and their first batch of 10,000 eggs had arrived in Kashmir from the United Kingdom in 1899; however, due to the lack of air transportation, the first batch had died en route. The second shipment of the ova arrived in 1900 in good shape and included 1800 fry. Out of this 1000 fry were transferred to Panzagam Dachigam (Harwan) and the rest of the 800 fries were reared on the premises of a private carpet factory owner (Mr. Michel) in Baghi Dilawar Khan near downtown’s Khanqah-e-Moulla.
According to the Department of Fisheries Jammu and Kashmir, “Trout Fisheries in the State of J-K received a major thrust during the last two decades with the establishment of the Mother Trout Fish Farming Project at Kokernag under European Union Assistance.”
“Besides this, the Department has another Trout Hatchery at Laribal where quality Trout seed of Rainbow Trout and Brown Trout is being produced. Trout culture is undertaken under modern technology of breeding and rearing to ensure better survival at different stages of the fish. Moreover, with the facilities of a highly equipped Trout feed mill imported from Holland, the Department has been able to produce quality Trout feed to achieve better conversion ratio and healthy salable stock,” as per the department.
According to Kana, Kashmir is one of the world’s most popular angling – a fishing sport – destinations due to the presence of trout. The streams and lakes in the valley have plenty of trout fish. Kana owns a houseboat and has been going fishing since his childhood, ended up falling in love with fishes.
“I loved fishes and that is why I joined the fisheries department,” he smiled. “And that is why I built a pond in my garden.”
Why named it Trout On Wheels? Kana’s friend in England has a restaurant on wheels that always fascinated him. “I thought of keeping a similar name for selling trout in vehicles. Makes sense,” he said.
A therapeutic pond
Living in an area for twenty-eight years where wild animals would prowl like stray dogs, Kana would always be worried about the survival of his fish that black bears in the area love to eat.
Kana had a German Shepherd, a famous breed of dogs, who was killed by a leopard in the garden three years ago. “That broke my heart. He was like a family member,” he said, describing the way his dog would sit in his lap.
Almost a year after his death, the Kana family bought another dog and named it Seagull. Seagull barks loudly at seeing a stranger entering his home. It is a three-year-old old dog with golden fur but his barking noise is still “enough to irritate wild animals” to keep them away.
“She (Seagull) saves us and fish from wild animals,” said Kana, while petting it. Seagull even barks when she finds the water level in ponds decreasing.
When the water supply stops, Kana breaks the surface of the water with an oar to ensure oxygen repletion for his fish. “It works for them like the way we give PCR to patients in an emergency,” he laughed.
On the first day of sales, Kana earned 80,000 rupees after selling his fish. “We didn’t expect that much. We were surprised,” he said. The rate of trouts per kilogram is 500.
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating trout fish at least twice a week as they are high in Omega-3. Trout are generally the perfect serving size for one per person.
Not just expanding his small business across all the districts of Kashmir, he plans to deliver it to Ladakh as well in the future. “The business is running so smoothly and I never thought it would be this nice,” said Kana.
He said fish is not just a source of employment for the Kana family but it also keeps them entertained and active. The ponds in his garden “motivate the entire family to wake up early in the morning to feed them”. “It is like therapy,” said Kana.