| Assam forest minister Rakibul Hussain at the Fish Conservation Park in Nagaon on Thursday. Telegraph picture |
Nao baat, pabho mas
Aru eti kaso
Baro tokat kini ani
Kiyo baru naso?
Nagaon, Oct. 17: There was a time when such poems made the staple of Assamese prep-school readers, describing as they did moments in the lives of Assam’s village folk.
In this case, the rhyme is of a man happily dancing his way home after having bought for Rs 12 a turtle and pabho fish.
It spoke of lip-smacking cuisine as well, as integral as it was to the Assamese as bhapa ilish — that trademark hilsa steamed in mustard — would be to the Bengali, as dear as pork and bamboo shoot is to the Naga. Pabho masor tenga, for example, an Assamese sour curry, was a delicacy. It still is, except that the fish is quite a rarity now, and frighteningly expensive when available.
Decades since, as the Nagaon district administration launched a Fish Conservation Park 20km from Nagaon, off National Highway 37 to Kaziranga National Park, there is renewed hope of nearly 55 fast-vanishing varieties of fish that are native to the waters of Assam finally finding a protective home to flourish in. “This will also give our students an opportunity to learn about these fish varieties,” Rakibul Hussain, Assam’s forest minister, said at the inauguration today. “The park could be a big attraction for people who are on their way to Kaziranga.”
According to records with the state fisheries department, the Brahmaputra river system is home to 217 different species of fish. With illegal fishing rampant and rising, many of the fish varieties are now dwindling, officials say. Nagaon, Morigaon, Mangaldoi, Barpeta, North Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Golaghat, Sonitpur, Dhubri and Cachar are some of the state’s major “fish pockets,” they said.
Right from the gongatop (scientifically the Tetradontidae, a kind of puffer fish) to the patitmutura (the Gobidae scientifically, but a sure cure for bed-wetting kids, goes local folklore), 55 varieties of fish have been segregated in as many tanks along the 1km-long park. Also kept for conservation in the park is what is locally called the gagol (Bagridae), pabho (Siluridae), botiya (Cobitidae), seng (Channidae), kokila (Belonidae) and bahpotia (Schibedae).
“Most of these indigenous fishes are also known for their medicinal value,” said Manoj Deka, director of the fisheries department. “They form a very important part of the socio-cultural life of the people of the state. We intend to take adequate scientific measures so that each of our 217 fish species can be saved from extinction.”
“The aim of the park, which has been set up under NREGA by the Bajigaoan development block,” said Nagaon DRDA director Niranjan Barua, “is to showcase the fish. As for the tanks, they are scientifically interlinked so that issues such as draining of excess water can be easily tackled.”
There are other plans as well to conserve the state’s fish resources, Subhas Chandra Dutta, district officer of the Nagaon fisheries department, told The Telegraph. “We have already set up a facility to showcase the state’s 65 ornamental fish varieties at Raha, about 20km from Nagaon.”
Assam’s local fish could finally have a chance.