Tuesday November 19, 2019

Bhutan is fighting hard to conserve the Threatened Iconic Fish ‘Golden Mahseer’

In Bhutan, the golden mahseer is considered as one of the eight auspicious signs associated with Buddhism, as practised in the Himalayan region

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The Iconic fish of Bhutan, Golden Mahseer. Image source: mahseer-fly-fishing.blogspot.com
  • The golden mahseer of Bhutan is also known as ‘Tor putitora’
  • The Bhutan government is taking steps to conserve it by allocating hatcheries right besides the dams where these fishes are usually found
  • This doesn’t stop the Bhutanese government from building hydroelectric dams 

One of the best known fish found in South Asian waters is the golden mahseer or ‘Tor putitora’. Growing to a length of nine feet and weighing up to 40kg, makes it one of the most sought-after gaming fish in the world. At one point, the fish was found along the whole Himalayan belt, from northern Pakistan to present-day Myanmar. It was also found in the waters of Iran and Thailand.

Unfortunately, environmental degradation and unrestricted fishing have had a catastrophic impact on its population. Today, it is listed on the International Union of Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species. In India, the private company, Tata Power has spearheaded a campaign to breed and release fishes into the rivers. In Nepal, it continues to face severe challenges as laws go unenforced.

“The rivers of southern Bhutan are its greatest hope for survival, as long as action is taken soon to keep the threats to mahseer at bay” states a World Wildlife Fund report. The health of the big fish is also a measure of the health of the river ecosystems of Bhutan, which impact all the flora and fauna living in and around the water bodies.

For Bhutan, a Buddhist country, the golden mahseer has religious significance as well, as the fish is one of the eight auspicious signs associated with Buddhism as practised in the Himalayan region.

The challenge of dams

This iconic fish is found in the Punatsangchhu river, which runs for 320 km from its source in Bhutan to the point where it meets the Brahmaputra in India. Two major hydroelectric dam projects – Punatsangchhu-I and Punatsangchhu-II – are being built on the river.

“The golden mahseer migrates all the way from India to upstream rivers in Bhutan for breeding and feeding  that since no proper scientific study had been conducted, there is no way of knowing how the dams will affect the fish. Nevertheless, since the fish have been sighted upstream in Punatsangchhu earlier, the dams may prevent the mahseer from migrating for spawning and feeding.” Singye Tshering, programme director at the National Centre for Riverine and Lake Fisheries told thethirdpole.net.

Rivers flowing in Bhutan. Image source Wikimedia commons
A River in Bhutan. Image source Wikimedia commons

There is no official record kept of the fish in the area, but according to Kinley, who was posted by the Bhutanese government, 15 years ago to keep track of the iconic fish, the number has declined since the hydroelectric projects commenced.

Mitigation measures

Singye Tshering told thethirdpole.net “while this may not be an ideal mitigation measure, it is recommended especially for conditions found in Bhutan, where gorges, rugged terrain and swiftly flowing rivers mean that fish passages and fish ladders will not work to offset the blockages created by dam construction. He said fish migrating upstream for breeding are collected and bred artificially in the hatchery near the dam and later released back into the river. That way, we can ensure that the fish are able to breed and sustain their population.” Officials from National Centre for Riverine and Lake Fisheries and environment officials at the Punatsangchhu project identified alocation for a hatchery at Harrachu, a few kilometres away from Punatsangchhu-II, in November 2015. The golden mahseer hatchery project is being built at an estimated cost of $2.8 million.

The management plan includes the identification of spawning and feeding grounds and declaring them as sanctuaries as well as promoting and developing fish-based tourism to promote a sense of ownership among the people to protect fishery resources. With World Wildlife Fund funding, the ministry of forest and agriculture has started a scientific remote radio telemetry study on the golden mahseer to understand its habitat. The project also hopes to establish baseline data for the mahseer population and identify migration patterns. The study is underway in the Manas river basin covering the Mangdechhu and Dangmechhu rivers.

Taking steps to conserve mahseer, Bhutan continues to build hydroelectric dam which is the main source of their economy.

-by Vrushali Mahajan, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: Vrushali Mahajan

ALSO READ:

  • Aparna Gupta

    Our Flora and Fauna is our heritage and is need to be protected. Its great that Bhutan is taking measures to preserve their Fauna.

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Sambhar Lake Becomes Death Bed for Large Number of Birds

The excessive salt in the water led to the poisoning, causing hypernectremia, which is water deprivation due to sodium intoxication

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Sambhar Lake
After witnessing drought for many years, this year the Sambhar Lake, however, brimmed with water due to heavy rains. The inflow made the water toxic due to the change in its alkalinity. Pixabay

A deadly game of survival is on in the Sambhar lake of Rajasthan for decades — salt versus birds. The result came a few days back: thousands of birds were seen floating dead in the lake and their carcasses scattered on the edge of the 12 km catchment area.

The dead birds seen floating in this largest inland salt lake in the country, include plovers, common coot, black winged stilt, northern shovelers, ruddy shelduck, and pied avocet among many other migratory birds.

Harsh Vardhan, a renowned environmentalist, told IANS that no forest department official has ever been appointed to look after the lake. The lake comes under the Hindustan Salt Limited, a public limited enterprise formed in the post independence era to manufacture salt. Its job is to manufacture salt. So who should look after the lake; this has never been decided, he said.

The lake has not been handed to the forest department, and the area, where birds come, is no one’s land. Sambhar lake may be a part of the Hindustan Salt Ltd, but the company has nothing to do with the birds, he says.

The chief wildlife warden Arindam Tomar has maintained silence over the issue.

Even, Principal secretary, forest and environment Shreya Guha has washed her hands off the issue. All that she did was to a give statement that the Jaipur and Nagaur District Collectors have been asked to remove the bodies. She added that 4,800 birds have been dead till date, which is disputed by experts like Harsh Vardhan, who say that counting is not easy in the vast area.

Chief minister Ashok Gehlot on Thursday held a meeting on the issue.

Sambhar Lake
A deadly game of survival is on in the Sambhar Lake of Rajasthan for decades — salt versus birds. Pixabay

Meanwhile, Harsh Vardhan questioned the presence of several private salt miners and entrepreneurs, who have set shops in and around the lake. “They dig tube wells which suck water from the land making it parched. The remaining water gets evaporated leaving crystal of salts which are packed and sold in gunny bags,” he said.

Lack of water and drought has haunted Sambhar lake for years. State government has been spending huge money to woo tourists through activities like mobiking, balloning, race, Bollywood shoots, etc. A resort on the rim of the lake showcases salt manufacturing for the tourists. Crores of Rupees have been spent on the upkeep of the narrow gauge train and watch stations, but birds and conversation issues were always overlooked.

As Sambhar lake went dry, concentration of salt deposits came up within it. The water from surrounding rivers, meant to flow into the lake, was diverted by the miners.

After witnessing drought for many years, this year the lake, however, brimmed with water due to heavy rains. The inflow made the water toxic due to the change in its alkalinity.

The excessive salt in the water led to the poisoning, causing hypernectremia, which is water deprivation due to sodium intoxication, Vardhan said.

It seems birds which came in high numbers due to high water quantity this season died due to hypernectermia after consuming their feed which is the planktons, the microrganisms found in water.

Sambhar Lake
The dead birds seen floating in this largest inland salt lake i.e Sambhar Lake in the country, include plovers, common coot, black winged stilt, northern shovelers, ruddy shelduck, and pied avocet among many other migratory birds. Wikimedia Commons

The only step that has ever been taken by any government in the state was in 1981 when it was decided to designate the site as wetland and was renamed as the Ramsar site.

According to an estimate, around 60,000 birds visited the lake in a year which has come down to less than 20,000.

Vardhan says that if the lake remains with the Hindustan Salt Limited, which has been a loss making unit since years or if it is handed over to the private operators, who do excessive mining of water, then the lake and the birds are sure to die.

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Experts like him want the lake to be handed over to the forest department which can develop it as a wetland. (IANS)