Chhimi Dema 

Golden Mahseer (Tor putitora), also known as Tigers of the Rivers, is an endangered fish species found in rivers of Southern and Eastern Bhutan.

The fish is locally called sernya.

Today, the fish faces threats from developmental activities, climate change and illegal fishing, among others.

The Golden Mahseer Conservation Action Plan for Bhutan 2022-2032 identified illegal fishing, hydropower dam, and weak protection of spawning areas as the top three threats to golden mahseer conservation in the country.

The plan, prepared by the Nature Conservation Division under the forests and park services department, aims to conserve viable populations of golden mahseer and sustain its ecosystem.

The division has identified 12 threats to golden mahseer conservation in the country.

Fly fishing and fish handling technique displayed by an angler (NCD, DoFPS)

According to the plan, illegal fishing is rampant in all mahseer waters threatening its survival and its habitats.

The use of improvised electric shockers is found as the most common tool used to catch the fish in Bhutan.

Moreover, hydropower dams that disrupt the  migratory routes of the fish; weak protection of spawning areas; pollution; dredging of river bed materials; river training; unauthorised fish feeding; sedimentation; irrigation weirs; and introduction of exotic fish species are identified as other threats to the fish’s survival.

“Climate change can affect patterns and timings of migration, and cause range shift and phenology of mahseers,” stated the action plan document.

The document has identified six broad challenges which hamper the conservation of the golden mahseer and its habitats.

The challenges recognised are limited resources and technical capacity, limited studies and data on the fish, and lack of adequate facilities and tailored programmes to promote high-end recreational fishing.

Poor stakeholder coordination and engagement, weak transboundary collaboration, and international linkages are some challenges hampering the fish’s conservation efforts.

“Species such as the Golden Mahseer play a critical role in all aspects of science (river ecology) and society (culture), making it an extremely important target for conservation,” according to the document.

The division identified four objectives and eight strategies to conserve the fish and its ecosystem.

The four objectives are securing the habitats and ensuring viable wild populations of golden mahseer; increasing science-based information on its ecology; enhancing community livelihoods through the promotion of high-end golden mahseer recreational fishing, and strengthening education on the conservation of the fish.

The 10-year conservation action plan is expected to end on July 2032.

The native range of golden mahseer includes Bhutan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.