The team presented its month-long work progress to agriculture officials yesterday

Ecology: Biologists, who are conducting the first golden mahseer conservation and management project in the country, said initial data showed the samples are live and active.

But, the project team also discovered ‘a lot of evidence’ of fishing, such as gill netting, nets and other instruments to catch fish along the river.

The team was presenting its work progress to agriculture officials on April 10, a month after the project began.

The research team collected 30 golden mahseer and 40 chocolate mahseer, from different parts of the Manas River, and surgically implanted 20 of them with radio transmitters before releasing them into the river.

Of the 20, the largest six fish in Mangdechu and Drangmechu each, and eight in Manas River, were selected as samples.  One of them includes a chocolate mahseer.

Eleven receiver stations within Mangdechu and Drangmechu rivers under the Royal Manas park and the Jigme Singye Wangchuck national park in Bumthang record their movement.

Experts from the Fisheries Conservation Foundation (FCF) said, despite the strong winds and heavy downpour, the fish and equipment were all intact and movement was recorded.

They said the study would track individual fish movement, giving out information on where and when they spawn, how far they migrate, how do they respond to swollen rivers in the monsoon, and provide greater understanding of the need to secure connectivity in the river systems.

Little is known about the fish today.  FCF’s (Dr) David P Philipp said, “It’ll also tell whether or not the fish ever move south into India, where they have little protection from harvest.”

FCF’s operations director and biologist, Julie E Claussen, said the transmitters would be active for almost three years to follow the fish movement through several annual cycles.

She said the Bhutanese officials involved in the project were all committed and benefitted the project.  As part of the project, local forestry and fishery officials were trained in conducting surgeries, angling, and setting receiver stations.

Officials from Coldwater Research Centre in Haa and Manas park would implant three more radio transmitter tags in golden mahseer and release them next month.

International Union for Conservation of Nature listed the fish as an endangered species, as it is under threat from overfishing, loss of habitat, and decline in quality of habitat, resulting in loss of breeding grounds, among others.

The agriculture ministry and WWF Bhutan is undertaking the project funded by Michal Philipp, a board member of WWF.

Agriculture ministry officials said the fish is locally identified as ser nya (golden fish).

Wildlife conservation division’s specialist, (Dr) Sangay Wangchuk, said, “Features found in the symbols match with the fish’s features, such as the fins and whiskers.”

Agriculture officials said this project would lead to the preparation of Bhutan’s first conservation strategy and plan to effectively increase its population in the river systems.

The project director, Tshewang Tashi, said one of the benefits of conserving this fish could be tourism. “Bhutan could become the world‘s best angling destination and it’s a sustainable investment,” he said.

WWF Bhutan country representative Dechen Dorji said that the fish was being exposed to increasing threats from illegal fishing to alteration of the riverine environments.

“Construction activities upstream could also impact the fish,” Julie E Claussen said.

“We’re driven by the fact that the result of the study won’t be shelved but implemented in developing policies and management strategies to conserve the species,” a conservation biologist, Dr David P Philipp, said.

Experts also said that the rivers were rich with diverse types of fishes.

WWF Bhutan also donated two NRS rafts with accessories to the Manas park to carry out patrolling and similar scientific research in the future.

By Tshering Palden