Rainbow trout of Haa

Rainbow trout farming in Haa, has become a successful and sustainable initiative that provides high-value products and nutrition to the local community and beyond says principal livestock officer

The National Research and Development Centre for Riverine and Lake Fisheries (NRDCRLF) in Haa have been supporting the trout producers with affordable fingerlings and premium feed imported from Denmark and the Netherlands.

Deo Kumar Gurung, a principal livestock officer at NRDCRLF, said that the centre helped trout farmers by providing them with fingerlings at a low price or at no profit, based on the production cost without profit or at a subsidized rate to all clients across the districts.

The livestock sector provides technical support on feasibility study, market potential and verify project proposal from the interested entrepreneurs and explore financial support on cost sharing mechanism of 70 to 30 percent.

A principal livestock officer said that the center’s conducive work environment and skilled workforce have contributed to their success. “We have pristine spring water and a favorable temperature range of 8°C to 12°C that facilitate optimal fish rearing conditions at Haa,” Gurung added.

Regarding the scope of trout in Bhutan, he said that the trout farming has good scope in the future, as it is identified as one of the niche products in the livestock sector. “We can produce red caviar from trout, which is a high-value product. We also do value addition like smoked trout fish, fillet making, and fresh trout from Himalayan pristine water,” he said.

The officer added that the local community can also benefits from the important nutrition supply of trout, “which has a good amount of omega 3 fatty acid and with the high value of trout and moreover with the harvest of red caviar from trout.”

Additionally, he said that tourists will have the food choice of fresh trout in the high-end hotels and will not have to rely on imported trout from outside the country. “A well-managed commercial trout farm can be a visiting site for tourists who want to learn more about the culture and ecology of Bhutan,” he added.

However, he also acknowledged some of the challenges faced by the trout farming industry, such as religious stigma, limited demand in northern part of country being trout a cold water species. Additionally, the feeds were imported from Denmark and the Netherlands, which he says involve a high cost of production. Moreover, they are importing about 200,000 eyed ovaries annually from Denmark.

The officer shared the vital role played by international fish feed supply due to the absence of a local feed mill in country, that is incapable of producing high-quality feed. “While importing premium feed incurs higher costs, it is essential for ensuring optimal production,” Gurung said.

He said that they are yet to establish trout market connections beyond country due to an affordability issue for many Bhutanese, due to the premium nature of trout products.

According to Deo Kumar Gurung, a high end hotels, wealthy customers, and health-conscious consumers are the main buyers of trout. He said that trout products are costly and difficult to market to the general public.

The Minister of Agriculture and Livestock’s spokesperson praised the rainbow trout farming initiative as a shining example of sustainability and environmental responsibility in Bhutan.

The centre has five registered rainbow trout production farms and enterprises with the capacity to produce 0.67 metric tons (MT) to 35.25 MT annually. The construction of one commercial enterprise trout farm with 10 MT has completed in the financial year 2022-2023 at Bongo, Chukha.

“This endeavor exemplifies our dedication to responsible practices and eco-conscious approaches,” the official said. Meanwhile, the origins of rainbow trout in Bhutan date back to 2008, when the cold-water species was introduced to the region. Gongzim Sonam Tobgye Dorji played a pivotal role in bringing this species to Bhutan in the early 1940s, leading to its successful establishment in various frigid locales such as Haa, Paro, Bumthang, and Thimphu.

Bhutan’s aquaculture journey commenced modestly during the 1970s, with a focus on carp farming in the southern regions. As local fish production struggled to meet demand, the nation turned to imported fish. However, geographic limitations and landscape considerations confined the southern areas to carp farming. To address these challenges and tap into the untapped potential of cold-water aquaculture, the National Research and Development Center for Riverine and Lake Fisheries was founded in Haa in 2005.

The NRDCRLF is located at the base of three mountains known as Rig-Sum Gonpa and the place called Naychuthang, Haa. The centre is located at the altitude of 2850 meter above sea level. The centre was started since 1930. The centre was strengthened and given more mandates since 2005. The objectives of the centre is to produce rainbow trout fingerlings and supply to the producers, study on different species of fish in Bhutan and provide technical support on cold water fisheries to the client districts.

Nidup Lhamo from Thimphu