In the heart of the picturesque village of Jigmechhu in southern Bhutan, a spirited advocate is leading a charge for the preservation of a local treasure – the endangered Golden Mahseer. Tandin Wangmo, at just 24 years old, has emerged as a passionate voice for change in her community, striving to balance tradition with conservation and economic development.
Gathered around a communal table for a traditional Tongba session, locals engage in a thought-provoking discussion led by Tandin. The topic at hand is the Golden Mahseer, fondly known as the Tigers of the Rivers. A young man challenges Tandin, arguing that all fish are the same, but she deftly counters, sparking a night-long conversation about the importance of preserving this endangered species.
Jigmechhu, renowned as a prime fishing spot with sightings of the Golden Mahseer, faces a dilemma. While the community is prohibited from engaging in capture fisheries due to the river’s high-end recreational fishing status, the villagers grapple with economic challenges. Agriculture faces hurdles from extreme weather patterns, and human-wildlife conflicts wreak havoc on their hard work.
Tandin, however, sees a glimmer of hope in an unlikely place – fly-fishing. Having attended training on this eco-friendly angling method, she promotes it as an alternative income source. Fly-fishing, with its emphasis on precision casting and catch-and-release techniques, attracts international tourists, bringing economic benefits to the community without harming the delicate ecosystem.
“It is difficult to convince villagers, especially those relying on fishing for their livelihoods,” Tandin admits while out shopping with her daughter. “But we have an option for alternative income now. If we protect our fish, especially the Golden Mahseer, we can promote fly-fishing in our village.”
Tandin’s journey to convince her fellow villagers is not without its challenges. Many elders are resistant to change, rooted in a way of life centered around traditional fishing practices. To bridge this gap, she draws examples from the nearby village of Jabchu, showcasing the potential consequences of neglecting their fish and the interconnectedness of the ecosystem.
“Jabchu boasts many beautiful traditional houses, yet its population currently stands at only four, including a lone caretaker for the Lhakhang,” Tandin says. “If we don’t safeguard our fish, a day will come when they vanish. We have a critically endangered species, the White-Bellied Heron, which solely relies on fish. If the fish disappear, so will the bird, and eventually, there will be no fish, no bird, and no youth.”
Tandin urges her community to consider the future they want and envisions a thriving village where the Golden Mahseer swims freely, tourists indulge in eco-friendly fly-fishing, and a delicate balance between tradition and sustainability is achieved.
In the midst of a changing world, Tandin Wangmo stands as a beacon of hope for Jigmechhu, leading the charge for a sustainable future that preserves both their cultural heritage and the fragile ecosystem that sustains them.