Blissful sanctuary

Meghalaya’s demand for fish exceeds its production despite the state having numerous water bodies, many of which have been polluted due to use of illegal fishing techniques and unscientific mining. The government, with the dual aim of replenishing aquatic life and filling the demand-supply gap, has introduced Aquaculture Mission under which 54 river sanctuaries across the state have been sanctioned.
The sanctuaries are a conservation effort of the Fisheries Department under the Meghalaya State Aquaculture Mission (MSAM) since 2012. The basic objective is to protect indigenous aqua fauna like the mahseer and other endemic species through pocket sanctuaries in certain parts of rivers and streams, protecting the natural breeding pools and migration paths of the fish.

Under MSAM, the government has sanctioned Rs 270 lakh for the 54 sanctuaries at a unit cost of Rs 5 lakh. The assistance to interested community, self-help groups and societies is a 100 per cent grant.
Many of these sanctuaries, like the one in South West Khasi Hills, are also attracting local tourists in hordes. Fisheries Minister Comingone Ymbone has been making regular visits to the sanctuaries to ensure that their maintenance is up to the mark.
Of the 54 sanctuaries established, 51 are functional or in various stages of implementation. The primary objective of a sanctuary is to protect and rejuvenate natural fish stock of the rivers. The areas demarcated as a sanctuary are protected areas where no fishing or angling is permitted “so marketing of fish from these sanctuaries does not arise”, says an official of the department. However, when the stock moves upstream or downstream the community can harvest and market the fish.

In East Khasi Hills, there are at least six such sanctuaries. Mahseers, eels and hill stream fish are among the main species being bred. The watch and ward of the protected water bodies are primarily community or societies. The respective district authority can however intervene when any untoward incident violating the objective of conservation occurs. A senior government official said the power of community will go a long way to improve natural resources and empower locals.
Wei Mynrap Wah Umiam (Mylliem C&RD block), Wah Umdiengkain, Mawsadang, Wah Synrem, Nongspung stream and Wah Madan Tyrkhang are some of the fish sanctuaries in the district.
The government recently released a coffee table book that gives an account of some of the sanctuaries in eight states. Sunday Shillong gives a glimpse of a few sanctuaries.

Wei Mynrap Wah Umiam: It is located in Umlyngka in Upper Shillong that is about 8km from the main city. The picturesque sanctuary is being maintained by Umlyngka Fishing Association of the village. At present, the fish sanctuary has wild species of mahseer, hill stream fish and spiny eels.

Wah Umdiengkain: This water body at Mawlyngbna village, a few kilometers from Mawsynram, is a “hidden gem” with its “rich fossils and natural geysers”. The fish sanctuary, which was established in 2016, is hemmed in on by densely forested hills. There are several streams, waterfalls, caves and hot springs which make the place a coveted tourist destination. The water body is maintained by the village council.

Mawsadang sanctuary: Established in 2018, the water body is already teeming with species like mahseer, hill stream fish, spiny eels and others. The beautiful landscape of Mawsadang village and the clean water of the sanctuary are a visitor’s delight.

Wah Synrem: Located in Nongsder under Pynursla C&RD block, the sanctuary was set up in 2016. Seng Pynneh Dohkha Ki Trai Bri is in charge of maintaining the water body.

Nongspung stream sanctuary: The Nongspung village dorbar looks after the sanctuary in Mawphlang that was set up in 2016. It is about 45 km from the city centre. Golden mahseer is the main species being reared here.

Wah Madan Tyrkhang: The sanctuary lying about 50 km from Shillong at Pyndengkhah was set up last year. The Dorbar Shnong takes care of the place where wild species of mahseer are bred.

There are several sanctuaries in other districts of Khasi Hills as well as Garo Hills. Among the fish sanctuaries in Garo Hills, the ones at Rapdikgre, Chachatgre, Nengmandalgre, Rongsakgre, Warimagre and Songmagre are the oldest. All these were established in 2012-13 and have community management committees. Among the breeds reared here are red finned mahseer, brown mahseer, chocolate mahseer, golden mahseer, Indian trout, hills trout, fresh water and spiny eels.
Recently, the department has moved the Meghalaya Fisheries Act that would be in line with the Indian Fisheries Act and other environmental laws under which regulation would be uniform throughout the state. The district authorities will be empowered under the law to take stringent actions and regulations of activities under these sanctuaries and other fisheries activities.

(Image courtesy: Rivers of Life: A Portrait of Fish Sanctuaries in Meghalaya)

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