Younten Tshedup | Gelephu

The once green and sylvan fishponds lie barren and desolate in Chuzergang gewog in Sarpang.

These ponds measuring over 50 decimals to an acre have turned into archery range and mini football grounds today.

Chuzergang gup, Sangay Tshering, recalls how fish farming, once a thriving practice, dominated the socio-economic activity in the villages. “The initial dwellers of the region owned individual fishponds near their houses,” he said.

   A mother and daughter prepare to feed the fishes in Chuzergang gewog

A mother and daughter prepare to feed the fishes in Chuzergang gewog

However, over the time the practice declined with people shifting to other socio-economic activities and from the advent of modern farming practices.

The biggest reason for the decline in fish farming, according to the gup was due to lack of stable water supply.

He said that the new settlers – from the resettlement programme that began in 1997– were reluctant to continue fish farming. Most of the ponds were reconverted to wetlands and agriculture picked put.

“Since majority of the new settlers were Buddhist, their belief did not allow them to practice activities that involved sinning,” said the gup. “That is how fish farming gradually decreased in the gewog.”

Given the gewog’s potential in fish rearing, the government tried to revive the practice. Between 2004 and 2005 three new ponds were constructed and handed over to the public.

“Due to lack of adequate water, we could only operate those ponds for about two years,” said the gup. Even today these facilities remain under unutilised.

However, the national focus to curb import and promote local production has once again generated interest among the residents to practice fish farming.

Encouraged by the dzongkhag and gewog administrations, two residents took up the practice last year. The gewog provided basic supports including supply of fingerling. About five fishponds have been revived.

The product was displayed at the recent Foothills Festival in Gelephu last month.

However, the market for local fish has not really picked up among the Bhutanese mainly due to higher cost as compared to the ones that are imported.

The gewog managed to sell only about 200kg of fish during the three-day festival. “We hoped to sell more than 600kg initially but people were reluctant,” said the gup.

Gewog residents said the cost could come down if more people engage in the business. “It is possible to completely stop import of fish if the government facilitates,” said a resident.

However, it was learnt that those who were into the business – fish farming, poultry and piggery, received criticism from the rest of the gewog residents.

“There are many who want to take up fish farming and piggery but since there are people criticising this field of business, many remain deterred,” said another resident. “The funny part however, is that these people are the ones who would be the first one to arrive at the meat shops in Gelephu every week.”

Meanwhile, gup Sangay Tshering said that with rising lifestyle diseases and several religious discourses conducted in the gewog, many people have stopped eating meat.

“A decade ago, every resident visiting Gelephu would return with a meat product. This doesn’t happen anymore.”