NER / HISTORY & CULTURE
Locals show off their fishing haul in the early January morning of Magh Bihu in Assam. During the harvest festival, fishermen and locals come together to fish in their community fisheries, after which the catch is divided among all families for Uruka (feast celebrations). The younger or pregnant fishes are always returned back to the fisheries for them to reproduce.
PHOTOGRAPH: © anali baruah
With rivers flowing down from the Himalayas into Arunachal Pradesh as Siang to the Assam valleys as Brahmaputra and the endless natural deep pocket water pools and wetlands, the north-east region of India is one of the prime freshwater biodiversity hotspots in the world. The ice and river-fed tributaries intertwine and intersect throughout the region making it a habitable place for freshwater ecosystems to develop and thrive. The region is home to over 150 to 200 varieties of fish amongst these tributaries, rivers and water pools, of which the majority are endemic to the region. For example, the endangered Mahseer fish migrate upstream for spawning, feeding, and descend back after spawning through these tributaries. The wetlands (such as Deepor Beel in the outskirts of Guwahati, Assam) become home to a diversity of aquatic birds because of these fishes, creating healthy water ecosystems. It is no doubt that local people are intrinsically tied to the waters in their everyday life and fishing holds a close part of their diet and cultural rituals and practices.
Aqua tourism (activities surrounding water activities) and in particular, pesca tourism (centered around the fishes) are new avenues of creating new economies for local communities through tourism.
Angling in Taljawa Lake (left) and posing with a catch of Bullseye snakehead in Songmagre (right) in Garo Hills, Meghalaya.
PHOTOGRAPH: © Binny sangma from Wild Tour Garohills
One of the key community benefits is the opportunity for local fishermen and their families to be linked with the tourism economy. Inland fisheries are home to an array of fishes and where community fishing during harvest seasons also take place. The possibilities of linking communities directly with tourists can be a source of alternate income in the areas surrounding the fisheries and pools. Government bodies recognise the potential of this form of tourism too and call for collaborations between the Fisheries and Tourism Departments for the success of such future projects.
Meghalaya has over 79 fish sanctuaries to promote and conserve the local endemic fishes and create awareness among the locals as well as tourists. The Rombagre Fish sanctuary in Meghalaya is an example of local fisheries benefitting through the tourism economy. With infrastructural help from the Meghalaya Tourism Department, the revenue generated by way of entry fees is utilised for the maintenance of the reservoir and reserved for local community events. This is a good case of convergence of the Tourism Department converging with the Fisheries department and local communities in achieving the objective of Mahseer conservation in the sanctuary.
Another location in the state is the Amlayee Mahaseer Fish Sanctuary in Nongbareh (West Jaintia Hills District) of Meghalaya is over 40 years old. The best time to visit this sanctuary is in October and November where monsoon fed waters create a surge of new fishes.
Angling is often not tied to the idea of aquatic conservation. However, recreational and catch-and-release angling has been gaining momentum in the past years as a way of creating awareness and a step towards conservation. Angling Associations play a huge role in promoting the conservation of local indigenous fish species in the region. They fight for the conservation of endangered species in the region, distinguishing illegal anglers from recreational anglers following ‘catch and release’ practises and following strict rules and guidelines that are followed by their members.
Associations such as the Assam Bhorelli Angling and Conservation Association, All Manipur Angling Association (AMAA) and Nagaland Angling Association regularly hold ‘catch and release’ competitions and championships with cash prizes for the winners in categories such the fastest and largest catch. The local people have the opportunity to benefit from these competitions and also understand the value of these indigenous native fish species for healthy ecosystems. The Dima Hasao Angling and Rafting Association holds Angling Competitions from May till September in Assam.
Guests experience the unique Fishing-Rice cultivation systems with their hosts in Ziro Valley, Arunachal Pradesh.
PHOTOGRAPH: © CHALOHOPPO
Moving to the mountains of Arunachal Pradesh, The Simang-Siang Angling Festival has become famous since its first start four years ago. The main stars of the Simang-Siang River is the Mahseer or the Tiger Fish and the Goonch Catfish. This traditional catch-and-release Festival takes place around mid-August in Boleng where anglers and fishing enthusiasts come from all over the country and globe to participate. Last year, Aan (Uchi) Tangu of Pasighat (East Siang) was declared the winner with a cash prize of Rs 60,000 that he graciously donated to the Dosing Social Welfare Society (DSWS), for the next edition of the festival. People can also participate in other activities such as local sightseeing and hiking around nearby areas.
Fishing Festivals such as the Aqua Fest organized in February by the Meghalaya State Aquaculture Mission make it possible to include all stakeholders in the fishing and aquaculture sector to come together — holding events such as local fish sales and native fish cooking competitions among the local community.
These Aqua and Pesca-tourism events and local initiatives are a great way of exploring the aquatic diversity and uniqueness the region holds and understanding how these activities are tied to the local regional everyday lives. Linking tourism with activities centered around the fishes opens up avenues in food cultures, unique fishing practices of different communities and discovering rare indigenous species in the region. With many of the endemic fishes getting pushed into the endangered and critically endangered categories, tourism helps in linking conservation efforts with all stakeholders such as governments and locals to stabilize ecosystems, take pride in what their region has to offer and economically benefit from it.