Srinagar: At the crack of dawn every morning, Srinagar’s Chattabal area becomes a busy place, with traders turning up in large numbers to get their stocks.
The area is traditionally renowned as Srinagar’s principal wholesale market for fishes produced within and outside the state. The only thing that appears to have changed over the years is the quantity of nonlocal fishes it receives daily.
Every morning, nonlocal fishes including the Pankas, Rahu, Golden, Singhada, Paplate, Surmae, and Silver species reach Chattabal in bulk from outside the Valley, particularly from Punjab and Andhra Pradesh.
The queued-up traders, including fish sellers, vendors, and restaurateurs, get their stocks after tedious bargains, reflecting the Valley’s growing appetite for the nonlocal fishes.
“Most customers mainly want to relish the cuisines made with the fish brought from outside the state,” Mushtaq Ahmad, who runs a fast-food joint in old city’s Khayam locality, told Kashmir Reader.
In Khayam’s famous barbeque street, many food points selling fried or cooked fish have come up in the recent years. And most of them only have nonlocal fish on the menu.
According to Mushtaq, the reason behind “popularity” of nonlocal fishes has been their “good taste” and “easy availability”.
Alam, a resident of Bihar who has been running a fish outlet at Khayam, said he sells uncooked fish at Rs 130 per kilogram to his customers.
“So much is the demand for these nonlocal varieties of fish that I sell about 50 to 60 kg of them to customers daily,” he said.
Naveed from Uttar Pradesh, who has been selling nonlocal fish for past four years at Goni Khan near Amira Kadal here, agrees that the demand has increased.
“I came to Kashmir once and learnt that Kashmiris have a great appetite for the nonlocal species of fish,” he said.
“Earlier I used to sell fish in New Delhi, but the demand there wasn’t as high as it is here. My monthly earning here is between Rs 20,000 to 25,000; it was only around Rs 10,000 in Delhi.”
Food outlets selling processed nonlocal fish have also opened in other parts of Srinagar, including at Karan Nagar and Nowhatta.
Most of these outlets belong to Fayaz Ahmad Kaloo, who said the fish trade has four major dealers in Kashmir.
“There are four main dealers including myself who supply fish at Chattabal daily,” Kaloo said.
The collective annual turnover of the dealers, according to Fayaz, is “crores of rupees”.
“I alone sell fish worth Rs 1 crore a year,” he said.
The easy availability of nonlocal fishes has motivated many fish sellers to shun their traditional practice of selling the local fish.
Mohammad Maqbool, a fish seller from Amira Kadal who has been selling locally-produced species of fish for the last 12 years, said: “For the past three years, I have been selling imported fishes along with the Kashmiri species.
“Earlier, customers here used to consume less fish due to limited availability of the local species. But it isn’t the case anymore.”
The government too agrees that the market for the nonlocal species of fish is growing.
Director Fisheries Department said, “The market for the imported species is only growing, because we are not able to meet the demand despite issuing 14,000 licenses to fishermen across the Valley and producing fish in the department.”