Protecting the Punatsangchu golden mahseer

A project is underway to study the iconic game fish that comes up to Bhutan to breed

PISCICULTURE: To protect the endangered migratory fish, golden mahseer (Tor putitora) in Punatsangchu river, officials from the National Centre for Riverine and Lake Fisheries (NCRLF) and environment officials at Punatsangchu project are looking for a site to start a hatchery.

The centre’s programme director, Singye Tshering, said Punatsangchu was one of the rivers in the country where golden mahseer are found. “Of the many fish species in Punatsangchu, we’re giving importance to the golden mahseer, as it’s a migratory fish and comes to Bhutan’s rivers for breeding,” he said.

Touted as the most iconic and the toughest sporting freshwater fish in the world, the golden mahseer, called serngye locally, one of the eight lucky signs, officials said.

Singye Tshering said, with the construction of hydropower projects, the dam construction over the river in particular would block their migratory route and prevent the mahseers from swimming to Bhutan’s rivers.

According to their data, the mahseers start migrating to Bhutan from February and leave by September.  They breed and spawn here.

Officials said they decided to construct a hatchery at the site for artificial breeding.  The site is however yet to be identified.  Once they mature, the fish will be released into the river.

However, constructing a hatchery for golden mahseer is not easy, Singye Tshering said, because they didn’t know yet its characters or details on where the fish migrated to from Bhutan’s rivers.

With WWF funding, the ministry has started a project, a scientific remote radio telemetry study on golden mahseer to understand its movement habitat.  It is also to establish a scientific baseline data of its population and migration patterns.  The study is underway in the Manas river basin covering Mangdechu and Dangmechu.

The project is expected to lead to the preparation of the country’s first conservation strategy and plans to effectively increase the abundance of mahseer in the river systems.

Its findings and technology will be applied on Punatsangchu river to construct the hatchery, he said.

Although there is no official record of the fish, people watching the site at Punatsangchu river said they have visually counted between 20-100 numbers of golden mahseer.

Officials said, according to Kinley, who has been working at the river site for 15 years, the number has declined ever since the commencement of the projects.

Meanwhile, the deputy chief environment officer with Punatsangchu, Sangay Dorji, said to help protect the fish, a budget provision of Nu 10M has been earmarked by the project for hatchery construction.

The project’s environment wing and NCRLF officials also monitor the river’s aquatic life annually.

By Dawa Gyelmo,  Wangdue

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