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Postcard from India: Carleton University “Fish Woman” Brings New Tools to Fisheries Conservation

It must have seemed strange when my colleague Neethi Mahesh, of Mahseer Trust India (MTI), and I would leave from our tiny research station each morning, loaded down with fishing and tracking gear, pausing every few meters to sweep antennae over the water and take notes.

Yet people from the village of Valnur in Kodagu (Coorg district) took the sight in stride, affectionately dubbing us the “fish women” and inviting us into their homes for lunch and their temples for festivals. They listened to our descriptions of the project and offered invaluable perspectives on their relationships with their communities, their river, and the mahseer.

Cauvery River in India

The blue-finned mahseer (Tor khudree) of the Cauvery River are currently listed as endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List. Their populations are managed by the Coorg Wildlife Society (CWS) on a 35-kilometre stretch of river in Valnur, where they are a popular target for catch-and-release recreational fisheries. 

As part of my PhD research in sustainable recreational fisheries, I collaborated with MTI, CWS, and numerous volunteer anglers to evaluate the physiological impacts of catch-and-release fishing on the blue-finned mahseer.  Over three months, we caught and externally radio-tagged 40 mahseer. With support from the Mitacs Globalink Research Award, we wanted to examine their post-release behaviours to determine whether there was evidence of longer-term effects that could affect the population.

The blue-finned mahseer

From the moment the first fish was tagged, we tracked the mahseer along three different time scales: several hours upon release to examine their immediate behaviours, daily to examine their recovery and subsequently normal behaviour patterns, and hourly over 24-hour periods to learn about their daily movement patterns and habitat use.

Tagging the fish for monitoring

The project wasn’t all work and no play though! We hosted a kids’ camp for children and families from Valnur and Bangalore to share our passion for freshwater biodiversity and conservation. We also conducted a pub talk and online session for anglers in Bangalore to discuss best practices for mahseer recreational fishing.

Our research group

This project was the first of its kind in India: the first study examining catch-and-release sub-lethal impacts on mahseer, the first to examine mahseer behaviour, and the first to gather information on mahseer diel (daily vertical migration) patterns and habitat use. This meant that each day garnered firsts and new information, all crucial for the sustainable management of the species and fishery. None of this would have been possible without the support of Mitacs Globalink.

 


Mitacs would like to thank the Government of Canada and the Government of Quebec their support of the Globalink Research Award program. In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with international partners to support this award, including Campus France and Inria, India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Mission Universitaire de Tunisie en Amerique du Nord.