A study of the endangered fish is currently on, using remote radio telemetry

Conservation: Twenty golden mahseers have been surgically implanted with radio transmitters and released into the Drangmechu in the first research on the fish of the Himalayas.

Using remote radio telemetry, the research will study the biological life of the endangered fish for conservation and its development.

The fish is one of the least studied and currently considered “threatened” because of the rapid decline of its population in the Himalayan region from pollution, habitat loss and fishing.

Project director from department of livestock, Tshewang Tashi said, “At present, there’s very little empirical data on mahseer of its life history, habitat usage, reproductive biology, migration, and age-and-growth patterns in the wild rivers of Bhutan.”

“This fish is a very important conservation indicator of the overall health of our river systems,” he said.

The fish plays a vital role in maintaining the balance of the river ecosystem by predating on the other species.

Increasing development pressures and rapid deterioration of aquatic ecosystems of pristine rivers systems around the world has led to a severe decline of fish populations, such as the mahseer.

He said anecdotal information suggests that Bhutan’s rivers are considered one of the last remaining aquatic habitats for the golden mahseer population.

“However, there is still a serious lack of proper scientific and socio-economic data on the conservation status of the golden mahseer population,” he said.

This project will establish a scientific baseline data of its population and migration patterns before it’s too  late.  The fish, he said, was significant but not for food.

Tshewang Tashi said one of the benefits of conserving this fish could be tourism.  Globally, ‘fly fishing’ is a multi-billion dollar industry, creating thousands of jobs across many countries.

He said Bhutan could become the world‘s best angling destination and it is a sustainable investment with high returns.

“Fly-fishing could become one of the tourism products that can also create employment and help the communities along the river make a better living,” he said.

Fly-fishing, unlike other fishing, is not to catch fish for consumption.  It is a sport and the fish are released back into the river.

The official said that the project was not to interfere with other development projects, such as hydropower plants or mining.

“We simply need to learn  how to save this species or else it’ll be lost forever,” he said. “One of the most important outputs from this project will lead to the preparation of Bhutan’s first conservation strategy and plan to effectively increase its population in the river systems of Bhutan,.

Livestock department and Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment  in collaboration with WWF Bhutan and Fishery Conservation Foundation, USA, have installed 10 receiver stations along the rivers to track their movement.

The data is extracted from the stations every week and sent to livestock department in Thimphu, and then to the scientists in the USA.  The scientists, after analysing them, file a report.

The three-year project worth Nu 7.5 million is funded mostly by Michal Phillips, Fishery Conservation Foundation, USA and WWF Bhutan.

“Because of human developmental activities, the golden mahseer is getting depleted and could go extinct in Bhutan if a proper conservation and development strategy is not implemented,” he said.

By Tshering Palden