Angling aspirations in GH

By Richa Kharshandi

Angling is a popular sport as well as hobby in Meghalaya. Keeping this in mind, a group of like-minded people has decided to take angling to a bigger platform by encouraging enthusiasts even from outside the state to be part of the game and at the same time help locals earn their livelihood.
The Angling Club of Tura (ACT) is promoting fishing tourism through sustainable fishing. The project, a catch-and-release (CnR) model, is known as Bansamgre Sport Angling and Sustainable Fishing and Conservation Centre. It is the first of its kind in Garo Hills and probably in the state. The aim of the project is to improve the economic status of the region by providing employment to villagers of Bansamgre in East Garo Hills.
Fishing tourism is not a new concept and is a big catch in different states of India like Kerala, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and other countries. In Meghalaya too, there are many popular fishing sites but the sport has never been promoted to attract tourists.
“Garo Hills has many idle fish reserves and sanctuaries. So we decided to take the initiative to promote sustainable conservation by introducing CnR angling. Here we use the resources to enhance the rural economy without destabilising the fish population,” says Binny Sangma, a member of ACT and proprietor of Wild Tour Garo Hills.
Maintaining that the project is to help villagers and that ACT is a “non-profit movement”, Sangma says, “We are initiating the project to create opportunities and livelihood to improve the rural economy. As angling is our favourite pastime we are pursuing it and improving rural lives in the process.”
ACT believes Garo Hills has a huge potential for angling as a serious sport as well as a leisure activity. With the closure of fishing locations in Karnataka and Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh has become a “hot fishing destination and hopefully we can be the next best thing after Arunachal”, Sangma says.
Fishing sport has come of age wherein anglers catch the fish, take down the details with photographs and release them back into the water. The sole purpose of big game anglers is to break their catch record and without CnR, this is not possible, according to experienced anglers.

Rivers in Garo Hills are mild and the weather too is conducive for angling round the year.
The idea of angling tourism took time to evolve and finally became reality with collective effort. The club has been engaging in social works in villages to improve livelihood. Members of ACT had been practising CnR for some time and gradually took it to another level.
“We thought that this would provide full-time employment to youths here. So we started our pilot project at Bansamgre. We have to try and tab opportunities but we need support and cooperation from all stakeholders. Community participation is vital. We have to understand the humanity side of it,” says Sangma, adding that the members are ready to put in all efforts to make the project successful.
Bansamgre sublets its conserved areas for a paltry sum of Rs 3,000. The CnR project has already collected more than Rs 5,000 in less than a month.
Apart from providing livelihood, sustainable angling will help in reduction of possible extinction of fish species.

On whether fish will be wounded during angling, Sangma explains that there are different types of fishing hooks and the ones the members use and promote among enthusiasts will cause minimal damage.
“Mahseer is a dream fish for many foreign anglers who are willing to pay a fortune to land a monster but we need specimens to show its existence in Garo Hills. Till now we have caught decent-sized fish but we are keeping our hopes alive. Goonch fishing is more promising as 30-40 kg specimen has been caught in our rivers. Sadly, they all have been relished (and not released). We still feel that huge specimens exist. We need to drive home the point that CnR angling fetches you more pecuniary benefits than disposing it of in the market. Monster fish are star attractions and they can be caught multiple times for hook anglers to return to the venue every year which will boost the angling industry,” Sangma asserts.

Bhutto Marak, another member of ACT, says both the members and villagers are excited about the project, “It is going to help the locals, especially the youths,” he reiterates, adding, “The villagers at first did not understand the sport but once they perceived the idea they started backing the project.”
However, like every good initiative, this project had its share of obstacles. East Garo Hills Deputy Commissioner Swapnil Tambe informs that there is some confusion with the Fishery Department that had said “no angling can be done in the fish sanctuaries as there was an agreement between the department and the villagers that certain areas have to be maintained as fish sanctuaries”. At the same time, Tambe says sustainable fishing is a great opportunity to generate employment.
The ACT members clarify that they are staying away from the sanctuaries and promoting fishing in private water bodies and some rivers.
Speaking on the role of the state government, the club says safety and security are their top priority. “We have to work in tandem with the Fisheries Department that has a big role to play. The Tourism Department too has to be involved. Nok A’chik (a traditional house) needs to be constructed at fishing sites so as to enhance the revenue of the villagers.
“Our first priority is to ensure welfare of the villagers through pay per rod angling. We will try and lure anglers from the North East. It will only create a deeper sense of belonging and increase its value and strengthen the concept of conservation,” Sangma says.

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