An Overview of the Bhutanese Aquaculture Sector…

Aquaculture contributed 12.97 percent of total food-fish for human consumption in 2017 and is expected to grow further to meet the future fish demand of the country. National output of food-fish has grown tremendously over the past 12 years, from 1.34 MT in 2007 to around 223.62 mt in 2018. The 2018 production is valued roughly at Nu. 44.72 million. Among the fish producing Dzongkhags, Samdrupjongkhar dominates with a production share of 30.97 percent by volume and 6.19 million by value. The rapid growth in the Dzongkhag is thought to have been driven by a variety of factors, including pre-existing aquaculture practices, population and economic growth and favorable climatic conditions.

Fish Producers

At the moment, there are 465 fish farmers across thirteen (13) Dzongkhags in the country. Of these, Haa is the only Dzongkhag where rainbow trout farming has commenced at an experimental level. Sarpang Dzongkhag, with 105 fish farmers, has the highest number of fish farmers, followed by Tsirang with 100. At the other end of the spectrum, Tashigang Dzongkhag, with a lone fish farmer, has the least number of fish farmers. Between 2007 and 2019, the number of fish farmers in the country appears to have declined, from 637 in 2007 to 465 in 2019 (Figure 1). An investigation as to why this has happened is yet to be undertaken.

Figure 1: No. of Fish Farmers during last 12 years of aquaculture

Aquaculture Systems and Environment

Fish Production Infrastructure

Currently, Bhutan’s fish production infrastructure comprises 667 earthen fish ponds of size ranging from 10 m2 to 6070 m2. Over the years, the number of active fish ponds in the country has changed from 683 in 2007 to 466 in 2019 (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Consolidated Total Numbers of Fish Ponds for Carp Production

Fish Pond Area (m2)

At the moment, consolidated fish pond area of Bhutan stands at 24.32 hectare. The area includes backyard undertaking category starting from 415 m2 in Trashigang to 78639 m2 in Sarpang of which some ponds are semi-commercial type (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Dzongkhag-wise Fish Ponds Area

Carp Producing Geogs/Dzongkhags

Today, there are sixty two Geogs undertaking backyard to semi-commercial scale carp production and two Geogs for trout production. In total 64 Geogs are actively engaged in diverse types of aquaculture systems in 24.32 hectares of total fish pond area.  These Geogs are spread over 13 Dzongkhags (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Carp Producing Dzongkhags including Haa (Trout Farming Dzongkhag).

Domestic Annual Aquaculture Production and Challenges

The Bhutanese aquaculture sector faces a variety of challenges such as personal sentiment against fish culture as being a sinful enterprise, limited suitable landholding, climate change adverse impacts, under-developed aquaculture support service delivery competence and stringent wetland policy that deter fish pond construction. These constraints notwithstanding, Bhutan’s output of food fish has seen a remarkable growth in the last few years. Wherever feasible, NR&DCA has support carp production with meet fish food in the country. The production trend indicates that aquaculture is going to grow in the future. In 2018, Bhutan’s domestic fish production was 223 mt with 165.89% growth rate over 10 years from 1.34 mt in 2007 (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Ten Years (2007-2017) Domestic Fish Production in Bhutan.

Annual Aquaculture Growth rates (%)

The highest annual growth rate of food fish of 9.61% was documented in 2007. Despite the fact of increased domestic production trend, the annual growth rate slowly has declined from 2013 to 2017 which now stands at 1.00% (annual growth rate). During the last ten years, lowest annual growth rate of 0.75% was recorded in 2009 (Figure 6).  The overall growth rate over ten (10) years from 2007 to 2017 is 165.89%.

Figure 6: Ten Years Annual Aquaculture Growth Rate (%)

Annual Import of Fish Productions for Consumption

To meet the demand for seafood, Bhutan continues to import fish and fish products from India and other countries (Figure 7). However, the import trend has been declining with the gradual increase in domestic production but import is most significant at the moment in the country.


Figure 7: Fish Import from Indian and other countries (2007-2017)

There exist mammoth gap between domestic fish production and fish import in the country from 2007 to 2014. The gap between domestic production and importation is 753.71 MT in 2007 and 1270.48 MT in 2017. After 2014, the gap between domestic production and fish import gradually started to decline until today (Figure 8). In contrast to this situation, domestic production started to peak its momentum from 2014, thereby reducing gap between import and domestic production. However, Bhutan has major task to accomplish in terms of domestic fish production to replace annual mean fish import of 2049.32 mt for last ten years (2007-2017). The NR&DCA believes that Bhutanese farmers would reap great economic benefits if they increased their output of food fish. With required infrastructures, competency based human resources, appropriate budgetary provisions and with all other related resources being provided ideally, NR&DCA inspires  to overcome fish food self sufficiency in future.

Figure 8: Domestic Fish Production and Fish Import Gap



Pema Thinley,

Livestock Production Officer,

National Research & Development Centre for Aquaculture (NR&DCA),


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