What’s for dinner? In this Uttarakhand village, a 125kg monster catfish

Haldwani, Hindustan Times | ByAbhinav Madhwal
Jul 26, 2017 09:26 AM IST

Based on the videos, four people were charged with unauthorised fishing. They are said to be on the run.

It’s a shark... It’s a whale... It’s a catfish, weighing an estimated 125kg and caught illegally in the Ramganga river near Corbett national park in Uttarakhand.

A hardy creature, the catfish probably would have survived if it had released in the river.
A hardy creature, the catfish probably would have survived if it had released in the river.

But the freshwater monster, probably the biggest catfish ever found in Himalayan rivers, became dinner before it could be weighed on a certified scale and measured.

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Wildlife officials came to know of Monday’s catch after watching videos and photos of the fish tethered to a bamboo pole with a thick plastic rope and hauled by two men on their shoulders in Almora district’s Manila village.

“The fish could not be weighed as the villagers ate it. Based on people’s description and the video, we think it will be around 125kg,” Almora divisional forest officer SR Prajapati said.

That’s heavier than the ubiquitous 100cc motorcycles in India and almost twice the average weight of its species: Himalayan catfishes of the Asian genus, bagarius bagrius, which grow up to 70 kilos.

“The weight of the fish is unusual,” said JA Johnson of the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun.

“Locally known as goonch, the species lives in large pools and is a carnivore. During monsoon, it migrates upstream to spawn.”

It was a feast for the eyes as villagers took selfies and videos of the giant and uploaded them on social media. These were shared extensively and soon enough reached the cell phones of wildlife enthusiasts, experts and officials.

Close-ups of the fish’s large, bony head with moustache-like barbells more than a foot long show it gasping for air and wriggling. Another clip shows a villager trying to poke his fingers into its nostrils.

A hardy creature, it probably would have survived had it been released in the river.

Amusement over, the fish went to the saucer. But based on the videos, four people were charged with unauthorised fishing in the river. They are said to be on the run.

Almora district magistrate Savin Bansal said: “We will take action on the basis of the fisheries inspector’s report.”

It couldn’t be established how the powerful beast was captured as it is known to attack humans in water.

According to biologist Anup Sah, a member of the Uttarakhand Wildlife Board, fishing is prohibited in the Ramganga but the river faces rampant poaching.

“The government must give angling licences so that the species can be conserved and help local communities earn revenue at the same time,” he suggested.

In recreational angling, enthusiasts are allowed to catch fish for a fee with a rod and line. But the fish is released after it’s weighed, measured and photographed.

The catfish plays a pivotal role in the Ramganga ecosystem, the lifeline of Corbett. But its population has declined because of selective harvesting, habitat loss and manmade barriers such as dams.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has put this “near-threatened” species on its red list.

“This omnivorous fish can grow up to two metres and weigh up to 100kg. This fish can adapt to mountain streams as it has a corrugated belly,” Sah said.

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