Chhimi Dema 

Believe Bhutan, the national brand reflects the country’s history, landscapes, and ambitions. It promotes Bhutan as a high-end tourist destination giving tourists experiences of raw Bhutan–pristine environment and intact culture and other unique characteristics.

Keeping with the brand, the Department of Forests and Park Services (DoFPs) under the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources is strengthening the recreational fishing programme as a high-end eco-tourism service.

Recreational fishing, also known as fly-fishing, sport-fishing or game-fishing, is defined as fishing conducted by individuals primarily for sport but with a possible secondary objective of capturing fish for domestic consumption but not for sale, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

DoFPS’ Deputy Chief Forestry Office, Letro, said that recreational fishing serves as an example of high value and low-volume tourism policy.

He said it is a revenue generation programme whereby anglers pay high permit fees and service charges depending on the duration and location of fishing.

Only four fishes are allowed for recreational fishing: Golden mahseer (Tor puttitora, Chocolate mahseer (Neolissochilus, Snow trout (Schizothorax richardsonii) and Brown trout (Salmo trutta).

Anglers are allowed to fish in different areas of Mahseer and Trout waters.

According to the Forest and Nature Conservation (Amendment) Rules and Regulations of Bhutan 2022, all waterbody in the country is delineated into Mahseer water or Trout water.

Within the two water, there are three categories of sites: high-end recreational fishing; normal fishing; and prohibited for fishing.

High-end recreational fishing in Mahseer water is categorised into three zones.

Zone one is Manas; zone two is Mangdechhu, Drangmechhu, Punatsangchhu, and Wangchhu; and zone three is Maochhu, Nyera Amachhu, and Amochhu.

Anglers are allowed to fish in Upper Nyera Amachhu, Kholongchhu, Tangchhu, Dhurchhu, Chumeychhu, Nikkachhu, Phochhu, Upper Maochhu, Phobjikha, Gogona, and Haachhu under high-end recreational fishing in Trout water.


Regulations on recreational fishing 

The Forest and Nature Conservation (Amendment) Rules and Regulations of Bhutan define recreational fishing as fishing with a rod and reel for sport or recreation practised ideally through catch and immediate release with minimal handling.

According to the regulation, angling for recreation strictly prohibited use bait of any kind. They are allowed to use flyfishing or spin-fishing rods and reels, and artificial flies or lures.

Only a single barbless hook is allowed for recreational fishing; and single or triple hook with or without bards is allowed for personal consumption fishing.

A separate permit is required for fishing in Mahseer water and Trout water while recreational fishing and fishing for personal consumption is allowed in all waterbody except in prohibited sites through the issuance of a permit.

The angling season is closed during fish spawning in all trout waters in November and December, and for Mahseer water in June, July, and August.

Fishing is prohibited on some religious observances, within 500 meters of a monastery, dzong or culturally significant sites or lakes, major public infrastructures, and municipal boundaries.

Only three fish with combined species daily is allowed for consumption and eight fish is allowed for possession by Bhutanese.

According to the regulation, possession of Golden Mahseer is prohibited.

The regulation states: “Any non-Bhutanese national fishing in Mahseer water or Trout water shall be accompanied by a Bhutanese fishing guide and use of raft from a registered national company may be allowed for fishing.”

Anglers can apply online for the fishing permit through Online Forestry Services. The online service was launched in October 2022.

A total of 2,253 individuals availed fishing permits in the past five months from August to December last year.

Letro said that the department is working on defining seasons for fishing, making user limits for each river, and capping the number of user-days to limit pressure on the river resources.

In the past few weeks, the department trained fishing guides on safety standards, fly fishing, rafting training, and training of trainers.

Letro said that the fishing guides will collect data on the fish caught, size and weight.

This, he said, would serve as important data for managing the recreational fishing in the country.

River rangers would ensure monitoring and enforcement of the regulations at the fishing sites.

The recreational fishing programme also brings communities on board by encouraging them to engage in the science behind fishing and healthy rivers, and promoting legal fishing practices.