KARMA CHIMI | Thimphu
Fishing in Bhutan, despite being outlawed, is rampant in almost all major river basins in the country.
David Philipp and Julie Claussen, fish biologists from the Fisheries Conservation Foundation (FCF) USA, mentioned that 50% of the 107 tagged mahseers from the 2015-2019 telemetry study had been taken out of the ecosystem due to illegal fishing during the five study years.
“Illegal fishing is one the dominant short-term threat,” says David and Julie, adding that while traveling along the various river basins in Bhutan, they witnessed evidence of fishing like gillnets, fishing lines and hooks, traps and others.
David said that the level of exploitation is unsustainable and extremely high looking at the records, especially to the golden mahseer species which according to International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is on the IUCN Red List of threatened species.
“Curtailing illegal fishing is a major hurdle that Bhutan has to overcome,” they said.
Tshering Dorji, a senior forest ranger at Royal Manas National Park said, “It is very difficult to apprehend offenders as they are always ahead of us. Due to the improved communication network of the offenders, they are very well aware of the rangers’ movement in the field.”
According to sources, recently, there were incidences where extreme measures of electric shocker were also being used for fishing.
Letro, Deputy Chief Forestry Officer from the Department of Forest and Park Services (DoFPS) said that there are cases where communities report illegal fishing which is a positive sign.
However, fishing communities along the river basin solely depend on the river system which should not be neglected for them and they should also reap benefits said Julie.
Letro said that local communities are into illegal fishing as their livelihood and supplementary diets was based on it.
David said that community conservation-based ethic should also be generated.
As a long-term strategy, David suggested that the government should create community-based conservation programs and use recreational fishing to significantly reduce illegal fishing and to improve the livelihood of fishing communities in the country while at the same time aid in attracting tourists and generating revenue for the country and for conservation.
“With the coming of change and recreational fishing it is important for us to educate the local communities on the need to turn them from poachers into protector,” said Letro.
For recreational fishing programs, he added that it’s crucial to involve the local fishing community.
He suggested that drones could be used in the future to patrol and watch river lengths for unauthorized fishing activities.
Additionally, DoFPS has started issuing fishing licenses to both locals and visitors. Instead of fishing illegally, under tight restrictions and regulations in place, they may now take advantage of the fishing permit where they can do it lawfully.
DoFPS has also started community-based conservation programs, one of which is the high-end Mahseer Recreational Fishing Program which is being piloted by DoFPS, WWF-Bhutan, and FCF, USA.