“The International Mahseer Conference (IMC2) held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in February 2020 was an extraordinary gathering of extraordinary people bound by common interest and concern for the mahseer fishes of Asian rivers. Scientists involved in fields as diverse as taxonomy, tracking and ecological needs, through to conservationists looking to protect the various mahseer species including consideration of the impacts and mitigation of dams, and sport fishermen and those in the angling business, all made valuable contributions through presentations, debate and the exchange of knowledge.
“IMC2, brilliantly organised by Maejo University, was a rich experience for many linked reasons. Aside from formal conference sessions, cultural experiences and field trips brought us up-close to local traditions as well as mahseer in their natural habitats – literally for those of us scuba diving or snorkelling amongst shoals in the Mae Tang River – as well as the villagers whose landscapes they inhabit. Appreciation of the cultural contexts of mahseer fishes is as important for their protection as the ‘hard’ science.
“Passionate advocates of mahseer from 15 countries mixed freely together, exchanging knowledge, stories and good humour, forming the kind of international network that can offer the greatest prospects for an integrated approach to conserving these magnificent fishes and the ecosystems of which they are part.”
“More than just angling, I enjoyed the opportunity to see riverside villages and the way community programmes work to protect them, in Thailand. This gave me some great ideas to take back to India. It is always better to bring in tested solutions rather than trying brand new approaches that may or may not work.
“At this, second edition of International Mahseer Conference, I had the chance to spend quality time with some of the delegates, and get to know them better. While in the conference room, the almost non-stop presentations and discussions leave little time for socialising and really getting to understand the projects that delegates are working on.
“To finish off the main conference, prior to field trips, we all broke into small groups for specific round table workshops. Mine was on The Value of Recreational Fishing Programmes and it was great for me to see so many of the issues raised in my presentation taken up for discussion. The workshop was very thorough, but it is difficult to see any follow-up so far. We really need to see implementation for me to finally say this area of the conference was a success.”
“Overall, the programme covered plenty of ground in terms of: latest relevant science; ideas and inputs from recreational angling; and broader habitat and human use scenarios. However, I still feel that there is scope to move wider, as I mentioned in my presentation, and include many more people who have direct input to, or experience of mahseer rivers. Farmers and those involved in subsistence fishing spring to mind most readily, plus I spent a lot of time trying to get some involvement from people within the ornamental fish hobbyist community, as they are very active in mahseer range countries; not always with the best intentions.
“We should continue to try to involve ever greater numbers of people from diverse fields if we are to achieve lasting changes to mahseer river habitat. So far, in my 20 years of looking at Indian rivers, it seems that aquaculturists and anglers demand a very large role in the dialogue, yet people who are intimately interacting with rivers are excluded.
“Let’s hope that the amazingly productive round table workshop sessions enact positive changes. Every topic area produced solid plans for both governmental-level engagement and creating local, community awareness or involvement plans. Time will tell whether or not we act those plans out. If we fail for lack of effort, then it will be another shame to add to the list from previous events over the last 15 years. If we make even one small change in one of the topic areas, then we will have moved the conservation agenda a little further in the right direction.”
"Given the emerging threat of what we all now know as Covid-19, it was a tough call on whether to go ahead with the conference. But after careful consideration of the current epidemiological evidence, and the advisories on travel to Thailand being issued by various governments, we collectively decided the risk was minimal and we should go ahead. I’m so glad we did as the conference was brilliant, and it looks like it will be a long time before we can participate in such events again.
"The conference was superbly organised by Apinun Suvarnaraksha and his team from the Faculty of Fisheries Technology and Aquatic Resources at Maejo University. The programme was extremely well balanced across the mix of science, husbandry, conservation, education/outreach and responsible recreational angling that make up the mahseer agenda. And, miracle of miracles, it ran most efficiently to schedule. Participation was truly diverse across age, geography and gender. Participants ranged in age from the 20s to the 70s, coming from almost all range countries - some for the first time - as well as from Europe and North America. As the photo call for International Day of Women and Girls in Science showed, this Conference was far from male dominated.
"I was particularly pleased that we had concerned and constructive engagement from the hydropower industry. As damming and water extraction are major challenges to mahseer populations throughout the range, their involvement is critical. While there have been setbacks – the fish passes incorporated in the Gulpur project in Pakistan have not worked, for instance – innovative designs are being developed elsewhere that allow cautious optimism that the conflict between damming and fish migration may yet be resolved.
"The conference asked the Mahseer Trust to coordinate a specific follow-up activity, to coordinate a ‘task force’ on recreational angling that will produce guidance to outfitters and anglers on responsible angling, safe fish handling, supporting mahseer conservation efforts, and engagement with riverine communities and their development agendas.
"IMC2 ended with a wonderfully relaxing camping trip to Mae Ngao National Park, and I left Chiang Mai convinced that mahseer constitute the perfect focus to address the multiple and complex agendas of riverine habitats, the conservation of aquatic fauna, and the wellbeing of the communities who live on the range rivers. Moreover, we have an amazing international constituency of scientists, conservationists, educationalists, communicators, concerned anglers and now engineers, who want to work together to make it happen."