Cold water fishes of the Trans-Himalayan Region: Bhutan

While Bhutan is rich in cold water streams, rivers and lakes, the fish distribution in them is poorly known, fish exploitation minimal, and aquaculture of cold water fish species does not exist yet. Apart from indigenous fish with fisheries potential, such as asla and mahseer, the exotic brown trout is also present in some rivers where it has established self-reproducing populations. Only controlled and limited sport fishery for mahseer (Tor sp.) is allowed. It is proposed to establish a cold water fish hatchery, both for the production of stocking material for releases in rivers and lakes, as well as for production of table-sized fish.

Unlike other Trans-Himalayan countries, the Kingdom of Bhutan is a small landlocked country of 46 500 km2 which lies in between China in the north and India in the east, west and south. Almost 90 percent of the land is mountains, the rest consists of foothills in the south, with some plains stretching from east to west.

Numerous rivers, most of them fed with snow- and ice-melt from Himalayan glaciers, flow from north to south and drain into the Indian plains of Assam and West Bengal. Among them, three major rivers, the Amo chu (Torsa), Pho chu Mo chu (Sunkosh) and Dangme chu (Manas), form the main river system of Bhutan. These rivers are rich in fish. The main indigenous fish are Himalayan trout (Barilius spp) and Mahasheer (Tor spp). Exotic brown trout (Salmo trutta) was introduced and is a common fish in some rivers and streams of Bhutan. Bhutan has also a number of large and small lakes scattered throughout the country. Most of these lakes are situated at altitudes above 2 000 m and are covered by ice during the winter months. With a view to propagating cold water fish especially trout, the Royal Government has initiated stocking trout yearlings in lakes. The yearlings required for stocking in the lakes have been obtained from rivers of Bhutan by capturing them in nets.

The fish stocks in the rivers of Bhutan have not been properly assessed but among cold water fish species brown trout predominates. As the government does not permit catching of fish on commercial scale fish catch statistics are not available. During the non-breeding seasons the Royal Government issues sport fishing permits for certain areas.

Previous assessment of cold water fish and fisheries potential of Bhutan was presented in two FAO reports (Dubey, 1978; FAO, 1987), and the situation was also reviewed by Petr (1999)

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