Mahaseer Conservation in Bhutan
More Information on Our Work with Bhutan:
The mighty Golden Mahaseer, a fish that makes its home in the rivers of the Himalayan region, is considered one of the mega-fishes of the world and a highly prized sport fish. Although international attention for Golden Mahaseer (in Bhutan, the spelling is Mahaseer rather than Masheer or Mahseer) is of relatively new interest among fly-fishing enthusiasts, the beginnings of fishing for this fish date back to the early days of British rule in India.
Like many other freshwater species, the Golden Mahaseer has undergone severe population declines in some areas of the world due to habitat loss and over-exploitation. Among the various Mahaseer 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 the World Wildlife Fund Bhutan and the Bhutan Foundation to develop a research project to work in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. This research project focuses on using radio telemetry in the two major arms of the Manas River, the Mangde Chhu and Dangme Chhu, to assess Golden Mahaseer spawning migrations; the location of their overwintering grounds; where the fish go during the monsoon season; and whether or not they swim across the southern border into India. Our overall goal is to help generate information describing the Mahaseer life history in an effort to determine effective conservation strategies and management plans.
The telemetry study is part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s “Mahaseer Conservation and Development Project” that will address the larger conservation needs of endemic Mahaseer throughout the rivers of Bhutan and enable the ministry to make informed decisions on Mahaseer conservation and development.
The first Mahaseer research expedition to Bhutan occurred in the spring of 2015. This activity was a ground-breaking event for fisheries research in Bhutan, as well as for Golden Mahaseer 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. A summary describing the first expedition can be found here.
Since the spring of 2015, there have been six field expeditions to tag fish and download data. As fish have migrated past our first original receiver sites, we have expanded our telemetry array and installed new receiver stations further upstream east and upstream in the Dangme Chhu: one on the confluence of the Sheri Chhu and one on the Kuri Chhu below the dam. On the Mangde Chu, we have added a receiver farther to the north, at the Mangde Chhu dam powerhouse.
Each research trip and each analysis of the data brings more insight into the movement and behavior of these great migrators. We see fish traveling long distances upstream within 1–2 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 project report that will be presented to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests in the spring of 2017.
Team members for the expedition included:
World Wildlife Fund: Jigme Tsuendrup, Tandin Wangdi, Sonam Drukpa, Dawa Tshering
Royal Manas National Park: Tshering Dorji, DK Gurung
National Riverine and Lake Fisheries Centre: Karma Wangchuk
National Center for Aquaculture: Namgay Dorji, Drukpola
Fisheries Conservation Foundation: David Philipp, Julie Claussen