Kashmir’s Snow Trout at Risk

To save the heritage and aquatic ecosystems in the valley, sustaining and preserving the Schizothorax is of utmost importance.

By Nazakat Aslam, Aalima Qayoom, Toyyibah Ansar, Faria Farooq


Kashmir’s indigenous Schizothorax, the iconic Snow Trout or “Kashir Gaad,” battles a sharp decline, threatened by sand mining, hydropower dams, invasive species, and pollution. These cold-water fish species are ecologically, economically and culturally significant. The ongoing conservation prioritizes water quality enhancement, artificial breeding, and safeguarding natural breeding habitats to ensure their survival.

Kashmir’s aquatic ecosystem is under threat as native fish species, especially the Schizothorax genus, face a severe decline due to environmental degradation and invasive species.

Schizothorax is a genus of freshwater fish belonging to the Family Cyprinidae. It is commonly known as Snow Trout or locally called “Kashir Gaad”. These are fresh-water fishes, predominantly found in highland rivers, streams, lakes of Himalayas, Tibet and surrounding regions.

The endemic fish which is believed to have migrated into lakes and streams of Kashmir from Central Asian watersheds, has a streamlined body with a forked tail, which helps it to navigate speedily in strong currents.

In 1838, German Ichthyologist Johann Jakob Heckel documented 16 snow trout species during his Kashmir visit. Presently, only five remain: Schizothorax esocinus (Chirru), Schizothorax curvifrons (Satter gaad), Schizothorax niger (Alad gaad), Schizothorax plageostomus (Khont), and Schizothorax labiatus (Chosh).

Schizothorax niger and Schizothorax plageostomus. |Photos by: Toyyibah Ansar


  • Schizothorax species thrive in high-altitude, cold-water habitats with temperatures ideally ranging from 10-12 degrees Celsius. These conditions offer abundant dissolved oxygen, making them crucial for these fish.
  • Schizothorax possess distinctive adaptations for life in chilly, oxygen-rich mountain waters, where they serve as apex predators, crucial for maintaining the ecological balance in these high-altitude ecosystems.
  • These fish species hold immense commercial significance, supporting the livelihoods of local fishermen and bolstering the regional economy. Moreover, the fishing industry, in conjunction with agriculture, contributes 23% to the state’s GDP.
  • These species also hold cultural importance in Kashmir, being integral to traditional Kashmiri cuisine. Their preparation as delicacies during special occasions and festivals enriches the region’s culinary heritage.

Factors for the Decline

Over the years, the Schizothorax species have significantly declined due to various factors such as:

Sand mining

In J&K, illegal riverbed mining and environmental guideline violations are rampant, posing a significant threat to the survival of Schizothorax species, as they breed in clear water on a gravelly or fine pebbled riverbed.

In 2021-2022, authorities seized more than 7,000 vehicles linked to illegal riverbed resource extraction, such as sand, gravel, clay, and building stones, as reported in the annual sand and riverbed mining report by the Department of Geology and Mining.

“Three or four decades ago, there was an abundance of sand around Dal Lake, where Schizothorax laid their eggs. They also migrated to the tributaries of various riverbanks in early spring for spawning. However, due to extensive sand mining, their habitat is vanishing,” explained Dr. Farooz Ahmad Bhat, Dean Faculty of Fisheries, SKUAST-K.

Breeding Habitat Destruction

The erection of hydropower dams and reservoirs disrupts river flow, leading to changes in the natural breeding pattern and population fragmentation of Schizothorax.

Dams created a physical obstacles in rivers, hindering Schizothorax migration. This fragmentation isolates breeding populations, resulting in reduced genetic diversity and overall species health.

“Their spawning patterns are intricately linked to specific water flow conditions. However, the construction of dams disrupts the timing, duration, and volume of river flow, hindering the species’ ability to access and utilize their preferred spawning grounds,” said Dr. Asifa Wali, Project Associate in HADP (Technological Intervention in Trout Seed and Fish Production in J&K).

Introduction of Exotic species

The decline of Schizothorax species is partially attributed to the introduction of common carps, locally referred to as “Panjaib gaad.” These invasive species have outcompeted native Schizothorax for food and habitat.

Schizothorax have limited fecundity rate from February to April with peaks in February and March, unlike common carps, which breed year-round. This discrepancy leads to a surge in common carp populations, impacting Schizothorax’s food supply.


The presence of sewage in the water system has a detrimental effect on water quality, jeopardizing the delicate equilibrium of aquatic ecosystems.

Specifically, Schizothorax relies on the pristine cleanliness of its aquatic habitat to thrive, a condition rendered unattainable due to invasive sewage pollution.

“The decline in native fish species can be attributed to the deteriorating water quality in local water bodies and the use of non-native fishing bait. Fishermen have employed this bait to catch large female fishes, leading to their overexploitation and a subsequent reduction in the local fish population,” said Abdul Ahad, a local fisherman.

Expert Insights

“The population of Schizothorax has markedly declined. Schizothorax Niger (Alad Gaad), previously restricted to still water bodies like Dal Lake, is now appearing in flowing water. This shift in distribution results from water pollution in Dal Lake,” said Dr. Farooz Ahmad Bhat. 
Click to watch the interview of Dr. Faroz A. Bhat, Dean Faculty of Fisheries, SKUAST-K.


“Excessive exploitation, overfishing, off-season breeding, and the absence of mesh size regulations are primary factors contributing to the decline of Schizothorax. We must care for our water bodies as diligently as we care for our homes,” emphasized Dr. Ishrat Jan, a Lecturer at the Department of Fisheries.

Conservation efforts

The protection of Kashmir’s indigenous species is a top priority for preserving the region’s biodiversity.

The Faculty of Fisheries at SKUAST-K is actively involved in preserving these species, particularly the Schizothorax niger, a native fish species, as part of the National Seed Project.

Central to their conservation efforts is artificial breeding conducted at the Shuhama Center. This controlled reproduction in a managed environment aims to boost the population of these fish and counter their decline.

Furthermore, the faculty is exploring genetic modification techniques to bolster the resilience of Schizothorax niger. These modifications could make the fish better adapted to their natural habitat and more resilient to environmental changes and threats.

Additionally, the focus is on conserving the natural breeding grounds of these species. Protecting the habitats where Schizothorax niger naturally reproduces will support their proliferation in their native environments.

These combined efforts not only address the immediate conservation needs of Kashmir’s indigenous species but also contribute to the long-term sustainability of the region’s unique biodiversity.














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