For the love of the Golden Mahaseer…

It has been one year since National Centre for Aquaculture (NCA) embraced the cause to safeguard the seriously threatened icon of Bhutan’s freshwater realm, the fabled king of the rivers, the Golden Mahaseer. The journey from June, 2012, the time when we pledged ourself to this cause, till now has been anything but a walk in the park on a fine sunny day. From not having a bearing as to what direction we were to head in (because of the lack of knowledge born of prior research works on Golden Mahaseer in the country) to not owning adequate requisite resources in terms of manpower, infrastructure and fund, the challenges have been significant, and at times, overwhelming. Nevertheless, we pushed on, lured by the vision of owning a method to breed this fascinating fish someday. Sunshine or rain, light or dark, we kept plodding ahead, pushing ourselves to the limits, studying the fish closely and nurturing it as would a mother her child, in the hope of finding some signs that would tell us that the cause we had taken up was not a cause in vain after all. As ill prepared as we were to take up a cause as novel and uncharted as an attempt to research out a technique to breed Golden Mahaseer in captivity, we made do by using our ingenuity to put together in a meaningful manner whatever was at our disposal. We have much to thank people elsewhere in the world for, people we have not even met or known, for inadvertently guiding and inspiring us through their publications which abound on the ever so generous and giving www.google.com. Our heartfelt thanks to these people and of course, to google.com. Our heartfelt thanks also to all in our own kingdom who came to our help at the most opportune times. At this juncture, may we point out that in hindsight what the wise ones had said about there always being a way if one had the will rings so true. Indeed, if we want something with our entire life-force, the entire universe conspires to fetch us this thing, in the present case the “something” that is wanted dearly being the technique to breed Golden Mahaseer.

Today, what have we to show for spending an entire year in the quest for a means to propagate the Golden Mahaseer? Plenty, if we are to judge by our own standards. Today we are in possession of a rudimentary technique to breed this fish. In mid-February, 2013, we were able to strip a few hundred eggs from a gravid female Golden Mahaseer and incubate them successfully in makeshift incubators. In the weeks that followed and till the beginning of May, 2013, we continued to be able to retrieve and incubate eggs of the fish. Now, at this very moment that we pen this little something about our experience so far, a thousand or two advanced fry of Golden Mahaseer, produced in the manner mentioned above, are learning the ways of this world in the comfortable little concrete tanks we have housed them in. A few are dying due to natural selection and other reasons though. Yet we are confident that by the end of a year from the time of their birth, a minimum of 500 young, strong and eager Golden Mahaseers would survive to be released into the wild waters of Sarpang from where their parents came. Thereafter, the ball for these little creatures is in nature’s part of the court to be handled as nature deems fit, provided anthropogenic misdeeds do not cut short their existence before nature gets working.

One would think then that we can now sit back and relax and continue doing what we did in the last one year, i.e, strip eggs and incubate them to produce fingerlings for releasing into depleted waters. But this is exactly what we will not do. What we have managed to do so far is not even close to what we must accomplish if our cause to propagate Golden Mahaseer is to sustain in the face of challenges that will accompany economic development. We must now build on whatever little success we have met with heretofore. Among others, we must now refine and “confirm” our technique to breed the fish. The success of our present technique has a 50-50 odd that it is determined by nature: We are only able to retrieve eggs from gravid females and incubate them. So, obviously, if the fish refuses to mature for whatever reasons, we have nothing to retrieve and incubate! This is the worrisome thought that drives us forward in pursuit of a breeding technique whose success is determined solely by us, not by nature. Of course, nature will always have its own part to play, but we wish to be in a position where we can augment nature’s contribution significantly. In short, what we now seek is a technique to breed Golden Mahaseer at will, of course within the confines of natural parameters such as the breeding seasons. What our kingdom needs is a fail-safe technique capable of actually INDUCING the fish to breed.

Some agencies are showing inclinations to assist us now. If everything comes to pass as planned, very soon a major Hydropower Project (Mangdechhu Hydropower Project) will provide us with funds (as part of their obligation to contribute to the conservation of the natural environment) to establish a state of the art (by our own standards) hatchery cum conservation unit for Golden Mahaseer cum other native sub tropical fish species. This facility, if established, will continue to work toward propagating Golden Mahaseer and other important native fish, such as the Chocolate Mahaseer (Neolissochilus hexagonolepis). The highpoint of the proposed facility would be a sophisticated fish hatchery and an aquarium that will serve to educate the general public, most importantly the school and college going youth.

With the construction of several mega hydropower projects underway and a few others being planned, the Golden Mahaseer in Bhutan has already been dealt a serious blow right under its chin. Anecdotal evidence suggests that breeding migration, habitat and food sources in the Punatshangchhu basin are already compromised and with the Sunkosh project planned further downstream, one just cannot imagine just how this fish will be able to perpetuate itself in this particular river if nothing is done as soon as possible. The population of the fish in Mangde-chhu basin would receive a very comforting touch and support from the NCA’s effort if the MHPA-funded project materializes. The NCA aims to breed the Golden Mahaseer species from Mangdechhu basin if the proposed hatchery becomes a reality. Experts suggest that Punatshangchhu-Sunkosh Hydroproject should have a hatchery built in itself, so that Golden Mahaseer in Punatshangchhu basin receives the attention it urgently requires. This is not to say that inbuilt hatchery is the only option. If relevant agencies come together in good time, other options, even better ones, could be thought out for the fish.

Figure 1. Ripe Golden Mahaseer egg.

Figure 2. Golden Mahaseer fry.

Figure 3. Golden Mahaseer advanced fry.

Aquaculture support dispensed during 2012-2013…

As per the livestock Statistics, the national fish production in Bhutan during 2012 is estimated to be only 64.34 MT. However, towards the end of 11th Five Year Plan (FYP) period, the National Centre for Aquaculture (NCA), Gelephu is committed to achieve minimum national production of 150 MT of fish. To achieve this, various strategies has been developed and implemented. One such is, “Aquaculture Support:- A Cost Sharing Approach” which is guiding tool developed by NCA to ensure that support is dispensed in uniform, efficient and transparent manner, which received ministry’s endorsement somewhere during February 2012. Immediately after its endorsement, implementation of dispensing support service was initiated within four dzongkhags of Tsirang, Sarpang, Samtse and Sarpang.

Owing to limited time for implementation this program could support only 21 beneficiaries, out of which 17 constructed new ponds, one constructed new ponds as well up scaled his existing ponds, two only up scaled their existing ponds where as one received 271 kg of fish feed. With the completion of this program, additional of 13.976 ha of land has been brought under aquaculture with minimum estimated production potential of 8.735 MT, thereby enabling us to estimate fish production during 2013 to be approximately 73 MT. The following table gives summary of aquaculture support program 2012-2013.

Sl. No. Dzongkhags Area (Ha) Beneficiaries Supported (No of Farmers) Minimum Estimated Fish Production (MT)
1 Samdrup Jongkhar 6.346 9 3.96625
2 Samtse 3.905 7* 2.4405**
3 Tsirang 2.075 3 1.297
4 Sarpang 1.65 2 1.03125
Total   13.976 21 8.735

Since, the NCA was implementing such type of activity for first time; various challenges were encountered during the implementation phase, however they were smoothly tackled over course of time. From the lessons learned during the first phase of support program, the NCA devised supplement tool: – “A Guidebook to Implement: Aquaculture Support; A Cost Sharing Approach” which is intended to ensure effective support dispensing.

The dispensing of support, as described above, was possible with active support from and cooperation of the Dzongkhag authorities and Regional Livestock Development Centres (RLDC). The NCA wholeheartedly thanks these agencies and looks forward to enjoying their continued support and cooperation hereafter also.

Submitted by

Gopal Prasad Khanal, Aquaculture Support Dispensing Coordinator, NCA.

Thai fisheries professionals visit the NCA…

A group of three highly knowledgeable and experienced fisheries professionals from Thailand’s Department of Fisheries, under Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, visited National Centre for Aquaculture (NCA) in Gelephu under Department of Livestock, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) from 20/06/2013-29/06/2013. The main purpose of the visit by the professionals was to provide technical assistance and free consultancy support to the NCA toward strengthening Bhutan’s aquaculture/ fisheries sector. The Thai professionals were led by Mr. Kiettikun Charoensawan, Director of Suphanburi Fisheries Research and Development Centre, with Mr. Surasak Kullai, Director of Phetchaburi Inland Fisheries Research and Development Centre, and Mr. Noppadon Jindaphan, Director of Yalla Inland Fisheries Research and Development Centre being the other two members of the group. At the DoL in Thimphu, the professionals were received formally by the then Director General of the DoL Dasho Karma Dukpa. On behalf of Department of Fisheries, Thailand, the professionals presented several aquacultural and fisheries materials to the DoL’s Director General for experimental use at the NCA. The Director General profusely thanked the professionals and expressed his hope that the relations between the two countries grow from strength to strength in the years to come.

At the NCA, where they were engaged in technical activities from 23-26/06/2013, the professionals made several contributions to Bhutan’s technological vault, the most notable of which are summarized below:

Demonstration on induced breeding of carp using suprefact-domperidone combination: –The method to induce-breed fish using Suprefact-Domperidone mixture as the inducing agent is something that the NCA could adopt. This method appears to be related cheaper and more potent when compared with the existing method that uses synthetic hormones.

Demonstration on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tagging and pellet hormone implantation: – The RFID tagging could help the NCA manage and breed its fish more systematically. Using this method, inbreeding can be avoided. The method will particularly come handy in the NCA’s effort to propagate the endangered Golden Mahaseer. Species from different rivers in the kingdom could be bred and propagated in such a way as to produce pure-lines to conserve genetic purity and variability.

Use of “Bruselin” and HCG to encourage gonadal maturity: – The professionals also demonstrated the method to ‘encourage’ gonadal maturity in fish by administering “Bruselin” and Human Choriono Gonadotropin (HCG) into it. The NCA could use this method in its effort to research out a technique to breed Golden Mahaseer in captivity.

Designing of the blueprint for a hatchery for Golden Mahaseer and other sub-tropical native fish: – The visiting professionals also helped the NCA draw up the blueprint for a hatchery to propagate Golden Mahaseer and other sub-tropical native fish species that is proposed to be built as soon as funding becomes available.

Having spent a few quality days at the NCA, the professionals flew back to Thailand on 29 June, 2013. Presently, the NCA is following up on building upon the contributions of the Thai professionals.

The NCA remembers the Thai professionals’ visit with fondness and gratitude.

Submitted by Gopal Prasad Khanal and Drukpola, NCA.

Fish farm registration guideline…

So that eligible fish farms may seek registration with National Centre for Aquaculture (NCA), an informal guideline has been produced which may be downloaded at the link below. The end goal of registering fish farm is a dynamic and progressive Fish Farming Value Chain (FFVC) in the kingdom. Livestock officials may use the guideline to understand, among other, the (i) requirements for registration, (ii) procedure to seek registration and (iii) obligations of a registered fish farm.

The existing eligible fish farms have already been registered and the registration numbers communicated to the appropriate authorities. Therefore, the guideline may be used to facilitate the registration of any new aspiring farms. Please write to us at ncabhutan@gmail.com for more information/ clarifications/ assistance.

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Image courtesy of www.google.com

Aquaculture events’ calendar 2013-2014…

National Centre for Aquaculture (NCA) intends to organize a couple of important events in the financial year 2013 – 2014. The expected participants are the registered aquaculturists and livestock officials serving in the Dzongkhags and at the Regional Livestock Development Centres (RLDC’s). The planned events have the following objectives:

  1. Confer Certificate of Registration (CoR) to the registered aquaculturists;
  2. Sensitize the registered aquaculturists regarding the opportunity to earn significant income from semi-commercial/ commercial scale aquaculture;
  3. Sensitize the registered aquaculturists regarding the support available to them should they choose to undertake aquaculture on a semi-commercial/ commercial scale;
  4. Identify the newly arisen and/ or persistent challenges that aquaculture industry in Bhutan is facing and devise suitable strategies to overcome them;
  5. Concretize Bhutan’s Aquaculture Value Chain Network;

The tentative calendar of planned events may be downloaded at the link below.

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Image courtesy of www.google.com