There has been growing pressure on the Bhutan’s water bodies. Numbers of mega hydropower projects are currently being implemented; many are in the construction phase. Its impact on the aquatic and avian life has already been felt.
Bhutan has five major and two minor river basins. The total length of rivers and their tributaries is estimated to be about 7200 km. there are over 590 natural lakes of various sizes; most of them located above an altitude of 2,200 m. the Kingdom’s rich resources have been used for different purpose starting from fishing to hydropower development. To ensure that aquatic resources are being used sustainably, it is important that management plans be developed based on sound scientific data. Because, currently there is no comprehensive database on the fisheries resources of Bhutan, and because there is growing pressure on the water bodies, it is crucial that documentation of Bhutan’s aquatic biodiversity be undertaken.
We have yet to discover how our fishes will respond to hydropower dam construction, or what the long-term consequences of habitat alteration from stone and sand mining in our riverbeds will be on their spawning grounds. In this regard, it is important that there are sound aquatic resource management plans and effective mitigation measures in place to ensure that Bhutan’s aquatic ecosystems remains healthy.
Although the past records, which include a few independent studies, report that 50 freshwater fish species of fishes have been collected from Bhutan’s western watersheds, a truly comprehensive study has not yet been carried out to assess species composition and distribution, until recently.
Through a grant from Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation, the National Research Centre for Riverine and Lake Fisheries, Department of Livestock devised a project ‘Fishes of Western Bhutan: Assessment of Species composition and distribution of fish in Bhutan’s three major river basics (Amochhu, Punatsangchhu & Wangchhu)’ to fill that gap and to assess the fish fauna both in terms of species composition and distribution in Bhutan’s major river systems.
The water bodies sampled covered nine dzongkhags: Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Chukha, Samtse, Punakha, Wangdue, Dagana, and Tsirang. A total of 104 species of fishes belonging to 16 families and 47 genera were recorded within the project timeframe. These include 57 new species records for Bhutan. Out of the 104 species, 11 are nonnative species introduced in various parts of the country for commercial purpose.
Through this project, the database of fishery resource of Bhutan’s three major rivers basins has been developed and a book titled “Field Guide to Fishes of Western Bhutan,” was launched on 15 November.
The book provides accounts of 104 species of fish belonging to 16 families and 47 genera. This comprehensive publication lists 104 freshwater fish species along with their detailed taxonomic position, quality photographs, distribution maps, present conservation status, etc.
The Director General of Department of Livestock, Dr Tashi Samdrup Said: “This book will stimulate a desire among science educator, researchers, and resource managers to learn more about Bhutan fishes and to gather even more information that can contribute to the informed management of all aquatic resources in the country.”
The book will be helpful in planning and coordinating any developmental activities in the country through its detailed information on the species composition and distribution.
The Director of Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation Dr Pema Choephyel said: “BTFEC has always been a supporter of environmental studies that ultimately translates to better conservation and protection of the environment. This book, which is first of its kind in Bhutan will allow researchers and resource managers to learn about Bhutan’s fishes and to gather even more information that can contribute to the informed management of all aquatic resources in the country.”
The field guide will be instrumental in managing the aquatic resources in an informed manner.
“With a lot of developmental activities coming up, fisheries will be impacted especially the native endemic fresh water fish in the wild. And when this happens we need to come up with management plans and conservation plans but first and the foremost requirement for such a management plan to be in place is that we need to know what fishes exist,” said Karma Wangchuk, Senior Livestock Production Officer, National Research Centre for Riverine and Lake Fisheries in Haa.
He added: “That’s where a fishery database is very important. You cannot have a management plan if you don’t know what kind of fish you have in your river.”
The book is the result of a three-year long study that began in 2013 with funds from the Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation.
Through BTFEC grant, the National Centre for Riverine and Lake Fisheries is currently in the process of compiling a similar database of fish species found in the rivers of eastern region.