Bhutanese aquaculture – A status quo and an outlook…

The current output of farmed fish in Bhutan is a mere 64 MT. This figure pales into insignificance when compared with the annual import of some 6000 MT (wet weight equivalent of fish) from neighbouring countries. The outflow of foreign monies, especially the Indian Rupee (INR), is estimated to be a minimum of Rs. 300 millions. A very speculative analysis of the available data approximates the current per capita consumption of fish in the kingdom at 8.27 kg and conjectures that the domestic output of farmed fish in 2020 will be some 100 MT. It is also speculated that some 7800 MT of fish will be imported to feed the country’s 809396 strong population in 2020. The per capita consumption then would be about 10 kg. It is apparent then that the aquaculture sector in the country has the tremendous responsibility of increasing the domestic output of fish, through farming or capture, toward contributing to national food security, generating employment and curtailing the outflow of foreign monies.

While an absolute substitution of import of fish in the next one decade appears implausible, the likelihood of enhancing the domestic output is high. In the 11th Five Year Plan (11 FYP), several key strategies will be executed to raise the domestic output to 150 MT. This would seem like a rather ambitious plan, given that the analysis of available data predicts a domestic output of a dismal 100 MT in 2020. However, considering that the foregoing prediction is not without flaws born of several limitations, including weak reporting at vital points in the value chain, there are rooms for constructive interventions, such as building of farmers’ institutions, to realize an output of 150 MT by the end of the 11 FYP.  National Centre for Aquaculture (NCA) intends to deliver these interventions in conjunction with creating an enabling environment for a vertical expansion of the fish farming sector. Horizontal expansion will follow as a result.

It is gratifying to note that aquaculture in the kingdom, in its present state, aligns perfectly with global endeavors and priorities born of growing concern for human health and the natural environment. For example, a bulk of the fish presently produced in the country qualifies to be called “organic” and “eco-friendly” because there is hardly any farmer in the country that makes use of inorganic pesticides, fertilizers, and antibiotics and fish meal or fish oil to grow fish; the energy consumption on Bhutanese fish farms is negligible when compared with that elsewhere in the world; and the tapping of the precious ground water to grow fish is non-existent. Fish farming in Bhutan has at its core species that feed low in the food chain and therefore helps sequester carbon. Given all these, there is ample scope for Bhutan to earn significant income through the “premium” that “organic” and “eco-friendly” fish would command. How and when we actually work to formally label our fish thus is a different task altogether though, requiring the coming together of several stakeholders.

The adverse impacts of climate change on aquaculture are manifesting all over the world and the affected nations have started to implement measures to adapt. In Bhutan too, climate change induced adverse effects on aquaculture have started to become visible. A group fish farming venture in Samtse has lost all its recently stocked fingerlings numbering some 6000 when a flash flood hit their pond very recently. Similarly some farmers in Chhuzagang geog of Sarpang have started to complain about not having enough water in their ponds. They say that in the late 80s they had ample water seeping out of the earth to fill up their ponds. So, the question that begs an answer is: Where did this water go? Now if incidences such as these are attributed to climate change, the message to Bhutan is clear: Aquaculture in Bhutan must prepare to render itself Climate-smart.

Invitation for Bids (IFB)…

 National Centre for Aquaculture (NCA), Gelephu invites bids from eligible firms for the Supply of Stationeries Items, Electrical & Hardware Items, Vehicle spare parts, Extension Kits & Fish Feed  for the Financial Year 2013-2014. The bid documents can be obtained from Administrative Section of the NCA on payment of Nu. 300/- for fish feed IFB documents & Nu. 150/- each for the documents of IFB for other goods with effect from 26th July, 2013. The bids must be received at the NCA latest by 12 Noon of 26th August, 2013, and shall be opened on the same day at 2PM.

Submitted by Administrative Officer, NCA.

Fingerling supply in 2013 – An update…

As of 22nd June 2013, National Centre for Aquaculture (NCA) has supplied a total of 4,94,400 fingerlings to the six dzongkhags of Chukha, Samtse, Sarpang, Tsirang, Zhemgang and Dagana,  and Regional Centre for Aquaculture (RCA) in Phuentshothang under Samdrupjongkhar. The RCA in turn has supplied the fingerlings it lifted from the NCA to its client Dzongkhags of Samdrupjongkhar and Pemagatshel. Among the species, Grass carp has dominated the supply with 2, 78,201 fingerlings, followed by common carp with 2, 08,107 fingerlings. As to the Silver carp and Indian Major Carps, a total of only 8,092 fingerlings have been lifted by the Dzongkhags so far. The distribution of silver carp and Indian Major Carp fingerling will gain momentum after the completion of second nursing which will happen in the next two weeks. The following table depicts the fingerlings supplied so far during 2013.

Fingerling Distribution Status 2013

Dzongkhag/Agency Common Carp Grass Carp Silver Carp Rohu Mrigal Catla Total
Chukha 1,700 4,300 1,600 0 0 0 7,600
Samtse 9,683 31,600 0 100 100 100 41,583
Sarpang 54,824 31,451 642 200 200 100 87,417
Tsirang 15,750 36,200 0 0 0 0 51,950
Zhemgang 5,000 10,000 0 0 0 0 15,000
Dagana 7,150 9,450 3,250 0 0 0 19,850
RCA 1,14,000 1,55,200 1,800 0 0 0 2,71,000
Total 2,08,107 2,78,201 7,292 300 300 200 4,94,400


The farmers in Wangduephodrang are yet to lift their fingerlings. In 2012, a total of 7, 46,701 fingerlings were distributed to fish farmers in the kingdom. It is estimated that in 2013, this figure will touch the 0.9 million mark.

In order to boost the domestic output of fish toward import reduction in 11th Five Year Plan, the NCA will support commercial production through the supply of stunted fingerlings. The use of Stunted fingerlings will enable the commercial fish producers to have access to fingerlings all year round and therefore be able to stagger their harvest through the year. This would enable the producers to harvest more than one crop of fish a year. Stunted fingerlings will also enable farmers in temperate areas and areas with scanty water supply to produce table-sized fish in a short duration of time.

Submitted by Gopal Prasad Khanal, Head of Input Production and Extension Unit, NCA.

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 Our heartfelt thanks to these people and of course, to 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.