Effort towards Conservation of Indigenous Sahar Fish at Kamalpokhari in Pokhara, Nepal

Pokhara valley encompasses nine lakes (Phewa, Begnas, Rupa, Dipang, Maidi, Khaste, Neureni, Kamalpokhari and Gunde), collectively known as the Lake Cluster of Pokhara Valley (LCPV). The LCPV is listed as a Ramsar site (2016) providing a myriad of ecosystem services, such as, fisheries, tourism, drinking water, irrigation, and habitat for wetland species, wild animals and birds. However, many alien fish species such as Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) have invaded lake water ecosystem and threatened native fish species such as Sahar Fish (Tor putitora) in these lakes. Sahar, a popular and economically important fish species, is declining in its natural habitat due to the effects of human pressures causing pollution, habitat loss, overfishing, predator increase, competition, degradation of spawning and rearing habitat, and the introduction of invasive species. Though the price of Sahar Fish is high compared to other common carps, no commercial cultivation has begun.  On the other side, the local communities have witnessed an increase in Nile Tilapia, an exotic fish that has affected the population of native fish species of these lakes. Due to the prolific breeding capacity, Nile Tilapia has increased total catch which indicates that it has become invasive thereby competing with native species for food and space. Due to higher catch and low price compared to other fish species, Tilapia has dominated the fish market of Pokhara valley. Hence, the current status of such indigenous fish species like Sahar points to additional strategies for conservation and restoration of native fish species.

Among the nine lakes of Pokhara valley, Kamalpokhari is the smallest lake with an area of 1.01 hectare. This lake is managed entirely by the Dalit community such as Biswakarma. Major natural attractions of the lake include lotus and bird watching. The lake watershed also carries religious significance as it has temples thus devotees throng to the temples during Nagh Panchami (festival of worshipping snakes). Though the lake carries considerable cultural, religious and ecological significance, it had been overshadowed for long. Some of the main threats of the lake are aquatic invasion, siltation, encroachment, and extinction of lotus plants. Mr.  Dil Bahadur BK, Secretary of Kamalpokhari Conservation Committee, who has been in the forefront of the conservation shared, the lake has a lot of potential to attract tourists but it has lost its beauty due to lack of conservation efforts. Though the committee is protecting the lake, our efforts are not enough.

For lake conservation and management, LI-BIRD through the Darwin Initiative-funded project “Market-led Approach to Sustainable Management of Agrobiodiversity for Livelihood Outcomes” has been working on lake conservation initiatives for the past two years. With the project’s facilitation process, the Lake Management Committees were able to allocate around 42.5 hectares of wetland at Khaste, Neureni, Begnas, Maidi, and Dipang Lakes for conservation of wild plants, and habitat conservation for migratory birds. Since conservation of indigenous fish species is one of the objectives of the project, Kamalpokhari Lake Conservation Committee was supported with 3,700 fish fingerlings of Sahar, Gardi, Rohu and Naini. Among these four species, Sahar fish is considered to be endangered at local and national levels.

The programme was jointly organized by LI-BIRD and NARC, and Dr. Md. Akbal Hussein, Senior Scientist, NARC inaugurated the programme by releasing fingerlings in the lake. Dr. Hussein shared that, Kamalpokhari has potential for conservation of indigenous fish species like Sahar. But people lack technical knowledge regarding that. We are always ready to help you if you need such technical assistance. I think this lake can also be a suitable place for displaying ornamental fish. This can be done by allocating certain area and constructing an enclosure, which can aid to increase the tourism activity in this area, he further added. Mr. Dil Bahadur BK expressed gratitude and opined that, the indigenous fish species has its own value and stocking fingerlings of Sahar, Gardi, Rohu and Naini will increase the population of these species. The committee will put its full effort on conserving them.