Golden Mahseer Conservation Action Plan for Bhutan_2022-2032
Golden Mahseer Tor putitora, commonly known as the ‘Tigers of the Rivers’, is an endangered freshwater fish species. In Bhutan it is found in all the major rivers and is expected to be present at elevations as high as 1000 meters during the summer spawning season. Being a migratory fish, the Golden Mahseer migrates back to its wintering habitats at the lower elevations, near the southern border. Historically, throughout its full range across the Himalayas, Golden Mahseer conservation in general has had a significant knowledge gap regarding their taxonomy, ecology, distribution and population status, which has hindered conservation action planning. The species is also faced with considerable threats from habitat destruction, illegal fishing, river pollution, and obstruction of its migratory routes by dams.
Socio-culturally, it is also the most sought-after fish for both food and recreational fishing and the various species of Tor also have high religious and cultural significance throughout South and Southeast Asia. In Bhutan, the Golden Mahseer is one of the eight auspicious
symbols in Buddhism (locally known as “Sernya”) and has great cultural, religious, and historical significance.
Until 2015, not much was known about the ecology and behaviour of Golden Mahseers in Bhutan. The ground breaking research on the species conducted in Bhutan from 2015– 2018, however has shed much light on its population status, movement ecology, and life
history, as well as on the many threats facing the species in Bhutan. The research findings translated into some very strong policy decisions such as the revision of Forests and Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations of Bhutan 2017, which legalized recreational fishing for
Golden Mahseer. It was also felt that a holistic plan was required to streamline conservation and protection of this globally threatened fish species.
The Golden Mahseer Conservation Action Plan (2022- 2032) spanning the next ten years outline the key threats that need to be addressed to achieve the vision of ensuring thriving wild populations of Golden Mahseer in the rivers, symbolizing the pristine nature of Bhutan’s
freshwater ecosystem. Illegal fishing was found to be the key immediate threat to Golden Mahseer while hydropower dams being a substantial long-term threat. In addition, weak protection of spawning areas, climate change, pollution, dredging of river bed materials
and the introduction of exotic fish species are also ranked in the high-risk category. Threats such as river diversion, unauthorized feeding, and sedimentation fell under the medium risk category and irrigation weirs and disturbance from recreational activities were in the low risk category.
Along with these directs threats, there is an array of challenges that can hamper the implementation of effective conservation works. Limited financial resources and technical capacity hinder the conservation implementation efforts, and the limitation in data available
on Golden Mahseer across all of Bhutan poses a challenge for initiating new needed mahseer studies. Lack of adequate facilities and tailored programme is slowing down the roll out and promotion of high-end recreational fishing. Other challenges are weak community
engagement, lack of community support and poor conservation ethics, poor stakeholder coordination and engagement, and weak transboundary collaboration and international linkages.
The strategic direction towards achieving the plan’s goal of conserving a viable population of Golden Mahseer and sustaining conservation benefits in the form of ecological services are ground under four objectives as follows;
Objective 1: Secure the habitats and ensure viable wild populations of Golden Mahseer
Output 1.1. Key habitats of Golden Mahseer conserved and protected
Output 1.2. Stable populations of Golden Mahseer maintained
Objective 2. Increase science-based information on ecology, threats, and conservation of Golden Mahseer
Output 2.1. Information on distribution, behaviour and ecology of Golden Mahseer across Bhutan generated
Output 2.2. Threats and significance of Golden Mahseer documented
Objective 3. Enhance community livelihoods through promotion of high-end Golden Mahseer recreational fishing
Output 3.1. Sustainable recreational fishing programs implemented
Output 3.2. Community-Based Conservation Ethic establish among river communities
Objective 4. Strengthen awareness, education and communication on Mahseer conservation
Output 4.1. Collaboration on Golden Mahseer conservation initiated
Output 4.2. Outreach programs on Golden Mahseer conservation conducted
The implementation of these activities will also require support and coordination from different stakeholders. The monitoring of the implementation of this action plan is to be guided by the monitoring framework.