Mahseer Conservation in Bhutan

The Golden Mahseer, Tor putitora, is a migratory fish that makes its home in the rivers of the Himalayan region. These powerful swimmers travel far and fast during the monsoon season when the rivers are raging, an impressive feat for any fish. In Bhutan, little is known about this mighty fish: how far they travel, where they overwinter, what tributaries are important for spawning, or even how long they live.

Golden Mahseer can grow to impressive sizes, with reports from India claiming fish as large as 100 kg, however, like many large migratory fish, the Golden Mahseer are threatened. Throughout their range, populations have undergone severe declines due to habitat loss and over-exploitation. Among the various Mahseer species, five are listed as “Endangered” and two as “Near Threatened” in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Early in 2015, FCF engaged in a partnership with World Wildlife Fund Bhutan and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests to begin a Golden Mahseer conservation research project. The overall goal of this project is to help generate information describing Mahseer life history in an effort to create conservation strategies and management plans. To assess Golden Mahseer migration patterns, radio telemetry is being used to track where fish travel during the monsoon season, where the fish overwinter, and if the fish swim across the southern border into India. The project study area is in the Manas watershed, tracking fish along the two major arms of the Manas River, the Mangde Chhu and Dangme Chhu.

Mahseer Team Logos

The question of how best to protect aquatic biodiversity, including Mahseer populations, is a pressing one as Bhutan expands its road building and hydropower development. It is our hope that this research will enable the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests to make informed decisions on how to conserve their endemic fishes.

This research collaboration was a ground-breaking event for fisheries research in Bhutan, as well as for Golden Mahseer research in general, as no study of this scope has been attempted before. The project has been highly successful in achieving its objectives, especially given the rugged Bhutanese landscape. You can download a report of our first field expedition and achievements here: Spring Expedition Report

Since then, our project team has conducted several more field expeditions to build new stations, tag fish, and download data. We have now changed our transmitter settings so the tags will last eleven years, providing the option for long-term tracking. In addition, as fish have migrated past our first original receiver sites, we have expanded our telemetry array and installed new receiver stations further upstream in both rivers.

The focus for 2017 will be to assess the use of tributaries during the spawning season. We have added additional receivers in four streams within the watershed and hope to determine how long Mahseer stay within a tributary for spawning and how often individuals spawn within a season.

Each research trip and each analysis of the data brings more insight into the movement and behavior of these great migrators. We continue to be amazed at the distance these fish travel within one or two days. When individual fish move, how far they travel, their use of tributaries, and where they go within the watershed will all be part of the final project report that will be presented to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests in the spring of 2018.
Mahseer pic webpage

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