From being a much sought-after delicacy found in abundance in the Godavari and Krishna rivers, to figuring in the global IUCN Red List of threatened species, the fringed-lipped carp (Labeo fimbriatus) has been hunted almost to extinction, thanks to unscientific overharvesting.

A serious effort is hence being made by the Andhra Pradesh Biodiversity Board to revive the once-popular fish species by introducing fingerlings this monsoon, to start with, in the Godavari river system in Adilabad district.

“Till recently, this tropical freshwater fish was available in plenty in the two main rivers of Andhra Pradesh, but these days many aren't found, mainly owing to overharvesting. We are making an attempt to pull them from the brink of extinction,” R. Hampaiah, chairman of the Board, told The Hindu.

Feeding habits

The 91-cm-long, ray-finned, fringed-lipped carp is usually found in rivers above tidal reaches. Mainly herbivorous, it is a bottom feeder, and feeds on diatoms, blue-green and green algae, higher aquatic plants, insects and detritus.

Spawning occurs during the southwest monsoon in the Western Ghats, and experts estimate the range of fecundity of this fish from 64800 to 526000, in a range of 336-740 mm. Maturation and breeding is confined to the upper part of the river. “Fingerlings are being introduced, taking into consideration all these aspects,” Dr. Hampaiah said.

Sheer overexploitation

Rajiv Mathew, member of the Board's expert committee, who brought to light the loss of this fish species, traces it to overharvesting, confusion caused by similarity with the more popular Rohu (Labeo rohita), habitat alterations and pollution. “It is sheer overexploitation. They aren't leaving anything for regeneration. Maybe we need to train fishermen in scientific harvesting.”

The wild population of the species is declining, and has gone locally extinct from some parts of its known distribution. Declines were obvious both in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The carp, Labeo fimbriatus, was originally described as Cyprinus fimbriatus by Bloch in 1795, when he found it on the “Madras coast of India.” While including it in the Red List of threatened species in 2011, the IUCN noted that there was no specific conservation action plan directed towards the wild population. Seen in this context, conservationists welcome the present effort by the Board.