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Tilapia for lunch

Two hours from Mumbai is a pond stocked with fish that needs unburdening

Pescetarians, there is an important mission for you. Vimla Talao at Uran, under two hours from Mumbai’s center, is over stocked with tilapia fish, and it needs your help to balance its eco-system. Rahul Mhatre, who runs an aquarium business close-by, won the tender to rent the government pool in 2013 for three years. Since then, he has populated it with rohu, silver carp, pugnacious, catla, sea bass and tilapia fish to encourage sports fishing.

Rahul Mhatre holds up a tilapia he has fished. Although this one is mid-sized, sometimes, enthusiasts catch one-foot-long pieces
Rahul Mhatre holds up a tilapia he has fished. Although this one is mid-sized, sometimes, enthusiasts catch one-foot-long pieces

“During the rains, when we don’t eat saltwater fish, its fresh water fish we rely on,” says the 37-year-old.

Ratnakar Vajekar, a local construction contractor, who frequents the talao for fishing, offers advice on handling the African variety of tilapia. “It needs marinating for two hours in brine solution to enhance its flavour.”

Since 2013, Mhatre has populated Vimla Talao with rohu, silver carp, pugnacious, catla, sea bass and tilapia
Since 2013, Mhatre has populated Vimla Talao with rohu, silver carp, pugnacious, catla, sea bass and tilapia

On the Thursday that we are at the talao with Mhatre, Vajekar’s wife sends him out to get fish. He does what he usually does — drop by at Vimla Talao, cast a line with chapati dough as bait, and 10 minutes later, he’s on his way home with four palm-sized tilapias. “Sometimes, I’ve gone home with tilapias that are as big as my forearm,” he says.

Mhatre says they taste best in a tandoori preparation. “They grow up to nine to 12 inches and can weigh up to two kilos. That they are rich in Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids is a bonus.”

Visitors to the talao have a reserve of 2.5-tonne tilapia, one tonne rohu and 3-tonne catla to pick from
Visitors to the talao have a reserve of 2.5-tonne tilapia, one tonne rohu and 3-tonne catla to pick from

Mhatre charges Rs 200 per hour of fishing, and lets customers keep all the tilapias they catch. Since the pond is over-stocked, you don’t need to be a skilled fisherman. If you catch rohu, catla or sea bass, you pay a market rate of R100 a kilo and R300 a kilo respectively. Mhatre provides you the basic tools (a nylon line with a hook and a chunk of kneaded dough) and the knowledge of when is the best time to fish. “Between 2 pm and 3 pm is ideal because there aren’t too many people around and the fish come closer to the water surface for sun,” he says. Skilled fisherman are welcome to bring their own gear.

Calculating from the base number of fingerlings (fish as big as the index finger) and seedlings (fish as big as a fingernail) introduced in the pond, Mhatre assumes there is about 2.5 tonne of tilapia, one tonne of rohu and 3 tonnes of catla currently in the pond.

Mhatre feeds the fish a special mixture once a day; but evening walkers drop bread into the water for recreation. In the monsoons, the water levels rise to 12 feet, but recede to 5 feet in summer, killing the stocks. The most prolific unnatural predator is the ‘nirmalya’ or religious waste of garlands and coconut shards. The natural predators — snakes, birds and flamingos — harvest about 10 kilos of fish every day.

Despite this, the tilapia multiplies prolifically, endangering the growth of other fish in the pond. Hungry humans or the summer sun, one of us has to step in. May the best marinade win.

Tilapia fact file
>> It was one of the three main types of fish caught in Biblical times from the Sea of Galilee. Back then, it was commonly called St. Peter’s fish after the story in the Gospel of Mathew about the apostle Peter catching a fish that carried a coin in its mouth.
>> It is low in saturated fat, calories, carbohydrates and sodium, a good source of protein and Omegas.
>> It is the symbol of rebirth in Egyptian art, and was said to accompany and protect the sun god on his daily journey across the sky.

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