Production on the rise despite challenges

Lhakpa Quendren

Tsirang—Pisciculture in Sergithang gewog in Tsirang is not as slippery as it used to be in the past. After an initial hiccup from predators and slow growth rate of fingerlings, the business is seeing a steady rise in the production of fishes.

Tarabir Rai, a 56-year-old retired civil servant in Tashithang, harvested over 1,300 kilograms (1.3 metric tons) of fish in 2023. He is expecting at least two metric tonnes next month when harvest starts. The farmer is expecting to double his income from Nu 450,000 last year to about Nu 700,000 this year. Tarabir is expecting to increase the production to about eight metric tons in five years.

With all eyes on Gelephu, farmers like Tarabir Rai are hopeful of increasing their business. He established 11 ponds on a three-acre leased land, with a combined storage capacity of 83,000 fingerlings. Each pond has a capacity ranging from 3,000 to 10,000 fingerlings.

One of the ponds has been designated for a pilot project to cultivate crawfish by Druk Holding and Investment. If the pilot project proves successful, all the ponds could be used for crawfish harvesting.

To enhance growth rate, Tarabir Rai is experimenting with imported feeds in two ponds. He is currently unable to import feeds due to the requirement for larger quantities. “There is a lack of fish feed in the country and the fishes are being fed with local alternatives such as rice grains and maize powder,” he said.

Another farmer, Gopal Tamang, 48, from Sarpang, established seven ponds on a two-acre land at the same location. He stocked 30,000 fingerlings in June. Growth of fingerlings, he said, is slow due to the cold weather. But the prospects are promising.

There are no marketing issues, instead farmers are unable to meet the local demand. Hoteliers and restaurateurs along the Tsirang-Wangdue highway frequently come looking for fish.

To meet the local demand, Bhutan would require an additional 20 to 25 large-scale farms. To put into context, Bhutan imports about Nu six billion import of meat every year. Fish is one of the major import items in the meat category.

Meanwhile, farmers are tackling challenges like predation from snakes, crabs and birds, which often feed on fish in the ponds. Controlling these predators has become a daunting task for the farms.

As the farms are located along the river, there is a potential risk of flash floods. In addition, there are instances of local people illegally fishing in the ponds  at night.