Muhammad Rashid has been involved in the trout fishing business in the lush Swat Valley of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since 1988.  But over the past few months, his business has been affected by the corona virus. Rashid, 67, says he was the first to start private trout cultivation in Swat. Talking to VOA, Rashid said, “Trout production has been very good this year, currently, more than 100,000 kg of trout is available in Swat alone but it has no buyers.”

After fruits and vegetables, the highest revenue in Swat comes from the sale of trout fish. According to Rashid, due to the shortage of buyers, the owners and workers of trout farms have become victims of severe financial crisis. He said that there are more than 150 trout farms in Swat. Before the pandemic, the production and sale of this fish increased every year.

Rashid, who is also the president of the Swat Fish Farms Association, claimed his farm’s salmon trout is not available anywhere in Pakistan. He said its market price is Rs 6,000 per kg. In addition, the price of brown trout is Rs 2,000 per kg while the price of rainbow trout is Rs 1,600 per kg.

Rashid said his business depends on tourism. Last year, more than 2 million people flocked to the Swat Valley on Eid al-Fitr, which greatly improved business in the area. But so far this year, only 2% tourists have visited Swat. He said despite the fish being ready in Swat’s trout farms. In the absence of buyers, they have to provide more food to the fish which incur them further loss.

He feared that these farms will be flooded due to heavy rains in July, August and September. It may be recalled that the catastrophic floods of 2010 had severely damaged Bahrain and Madinah areas of Swat. The floodwaters also completely destroyed Rashid’s trout fish farm due to which he had to start his business from the scratch. Earlier, the fish business in Swat was severely damaged by terrorism between 2006 and 2009.

According to Rashid, although the terrorists did not directly damage their farms, they could not concentrate on their business due to the continuous curfew and panic in the area, which resulted in the loss of a large number of fish.  The coronavirus has so far killed 83 people in Swat, while the number of infected patients has risen to 2,300.  Like other parts of the country, Smart Lockdown is being carried out in many parts of Swat, which is disturbing the business community.

Rashid says he has to order fodder for fish farms from Lahore and Karachi but now it’s prices have skyrocketed due to transportation problems. Trout fish is considered a gift from Madin Tehsil of Swat. The first trout fish hatchery was established here in 1950. Farms for trout in Swat are set up along the cold, icy waters of the Swat River.

Remember that this fish can only survive in clear and mild water when it floats in the opposite direction to the flow of water. Therefore, it is considered a more powerful fish.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, trout are bred in Swat, Dir, Shangla, Chitral, Kohistan and Mansehra. Muhammad Rafaqat has been involved in trout farming for the past 20 years.  According to him, the situation caused by the coronavirus has never been seen before in his life.

Speaking to VOA, Mohammad Rafaqat said that he has built a trout farm with 30 ponds in Kaghan Valley for which he has taken a loan of Rs 10 million. But in the absence of tourists, his debts are increasing, leaving them in a precarious position. Rafaqat said that he has earned up to Rs 6 million precious season but this time his income is not enough to meet even the daily expenses. According to him, trout are very sensitive and it takes a long time to breed.  It takes about a year and a half for a 500 gram fish to be ready.

Mohammad Rafaqat further said that 30,000 kg of fish is ready on his farm while there is no buyer due to which there is no income and the cost of fish feed is increasing. Rashid, who is on his farm in Madinah, demanded financial help from the government, saying the government should help them with fish food and wages.

Jaffar Yahya, assistant director of fisheries department in Swat, also agrees with Rashid saying that in Swat fish farms business depends on tourism, but this year tourists are not coming because of the coronavirus pandemic. “People in fish and hotel industry are in deep trouble,” he said while speaking to VOA, “the trout is the best gift of Swat which is always the first priority of tourists.” On the other hand, environmentalists say that due to rampant tourism and lack of good governance, pollution in the area has increased drastically, which has severely affected the local river fish.

The article first appeared in VOA Urdu on June 25,2020.

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