New research identifies 124 species of fish in three major rivers

Kathmandu– A study conducted by USAID Paani Program has identified 124 species of fishes in three major rivers of Nepal. The research was conducted in Karnali, Mahakali and Rapti river basins.

The research team of Paani held research from June 2018 to June 2019. Organizing a program in capital, USAID Paani project has unveiled the details of research. The details of the research under “An Assessment of fish Vulnerability in Mahakali, karnali and Rapti River Basins of Western Nepal” are presented as followings:


Freshwater biodiversity resources with their existence and intrinsic values provide wide range of essential goods and services for the sustenance and/or existence of the human as well as ecological communities. A thorough knowledge and sound database on ecological and ichthyofaunal variability is required to develop and implement conservation initiative that ensures sustainable management of aquatic biodiversity. A huge knowledge gap persists on capture fishery and associated threats especially in Mahakali, Karnali and Rapti River Basins of Western Nepal. Since the creation of detail database on fishery required more time and resources and a rapid assessment was conducted based on local knowledge on aquatic biodiversity and associated threats in these river basins with a view to prepare inventory of fish biodiversity, identify conservation value area, fishing hot spots in river stretches and threats in their priority order.

The specific objectives are:

  • To prepare inventory of fish diversity with keystone and endemic fish species across nine Paani’s priority watersheds of three river basins.
  • To locate and map stretches or sections of the Rivers with respect to fish breeding, nursing as well as high fishing areas in main rivers, tributaries and streams,
  • To identify priority factors posing threats to fish biodiversity in stretches of main rivers & their tributaries.

The exploratory research has created baseline data on aquatic biodiversity and their threats that inform policy, programs to be implemented at different level of governments, and provided information for future systemic research.


  • 124 freshwater fish species inventored where fish out counted in Lower Karnali (102) while the lowest was in West Seti (13). This diversity include both migratory and residential fish species,
  • Six flagship species of high biodiversity and economic value, and seven endemic species identified (Figure 1)
  • Indentified the role of migratory fish species (Tor Spp, Bagarius spp and Anguilla bengalensis) and flagship species in maintaining ecosystem integrity in River systems.
  • River stretches for breeding (125) and foraging habitats (142) mapped (Figure 2).
  • A total of 176 fishing hotspots areas indentified in 9 watersheds across Mahakali, Karnali and Rapti River basins (Figure 3),
  • Major threats identified include destructive fishing practices, overfishing (too many people, unregulated fishing implements) and over-extraction of river resources.
  • Climate induced hazards such as flood and river tubidity reported to be affecting fish stocks.
  • Types and implication of fishing implements identified per community experience for each study watersheds.

The role of migratory and flagship fish species as perceived by community: 

  • Indicate the presence of other fish and other aquatic organism in the river and tributary(maintenance of tropic order)
  • Link the upstream and downstream ecosystem.
  • Inform the hydrological and thermal dynamics of river,
  • Support for subsistence.


  • The study provided a better understanding of the fish biodiversity, potential fish conservation value area and existing problems for fish biodiversity conservation. The information could be used to develop conservation plan and program.
  • Integration of this body of knowledge on aquatic biodiversity is important to raise sense of ownership of conservation initiatives among the communities. The result of the study should be used to initiate participatory conservation governance.
  • The study has also provided large amount of qualitative information to be validated by systematic research. The exploratory (community perceived) and academic research should be carried out to enrich and strengthen the scientific knowledge of aquatic biodiversity, to inform develop conservation policy that enhances sustainable capture fishery.
  • Devise strategy that reduces factors that threaten river health, freshwater biodiversity and ecosystem services that support local livelihoods.
  • This body of knowledge informs to devise mechanism whereby freshwater biodiversity be maintained in situ engaging key stakeholders mandated with rivers, water bodies.
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