The Khengjang- Yangoulen Fish Conservation Zone : An ecological initiative

Fr Paul Lelen Haokip
Against the backdrop of deteriorating environmental conditions, creation care is a relevant option for sustainable behaviour. Creation care can manifest in different ways. One such care is “The Khengjang-Yangoulen Fish Conservation Zone” project under Chandel district of Manipur, India. This unique project is positioned in the Eastern Himalayas, which is one of 36 global biodiversity hotspots.
The unique topography of these mountains, combined with the southwestern monsoon winds from the Bay of Bengal promotes a multitude of diverse flora and fauna. It has been learnt that due to severe exploitation of freshwater ecosystems in this biodiversity hotspot, nearly 14% of the fish species are considered threatened, while 9% are near threatened. While the Wildlife Protection Act ofIndia (1972) offers a legal shield to terrestrial and some of the aquatic animals and marine mammals, unfortunately, less emphasis has been accorded to freshwater fish biodiversity(Sarkar et al., 2008).
This project is an initiative to incorporate traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and western scientific ecological knowledge (WSEK) looking forward to co-creation, integration and co-management arrangements (Bussey et al., 2016). The Christian perspective that human beings are the pinnacle of creation and lord of all creatures stands against environmental safeguard measures. It is time that biblical values and scientific expertise work together hand in hand for environmental care. The secular and sacred divide is fading. Today, all disciplines of research deal with ecological issues.
Aim of the project
This project has been initiated to conserve fish resources through a community-based fishery management model called Fish Conservation Zones. This is aimed to educate the local population regarding the depletion of fish and involve them in fish conservation community responsibility. Empowerment of the locals to be aware of their surroundings for a proactive stance is the priority.
Ecological conservation
Ramachandra Guha, in his book “Environmentalism: A Global History”, highlights natural resource conflicts of the 1970s and 1980s emphasizing the rights of plants, animals, habitats where human activity should be curtailed (Guha, 2014). The fish may like to speak or make a sound but as soon as it opens its mouth, it is filled with water. Perhaps those elements outside the river ecosystem could mitigate the extinction of fish, and improve their habitat. Care for creation is evident in the Biblical narratives which began with creation and end in a new creation (Moo & Moo, 2018). Saving the voiceless inmates of this earth is a scientific work as much as a Biblical calling.
A recent freshwater biodiversity assessment in the eastern Himalayas potentially list two endangered species namely Schisturakangjupkhulensis and Schistura reticulata. In the above project areas, nearly 20 species of fish were consumed earlier, but now only four or five are available in small quantities. Other studies also have pointed out the critically endangered and endangered freshwater finfish species such as Horabagrusbrachysoma, Tor mussullah, T. putitora, T. tor, Pangasius pangasius, Osteobramabelangeri, Om-pokpabda, Chitalachitala and Chacachaca (Sarkar et al., 2008). Protection and conservation are imperative.
Protected area
“The Khengjang-Yangoulen Fish Conservation Zone” project falls under the larger project titled “Saving the fish from the Mekong to Meghalaya” funded by The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), Bangalore, India wherein Bashida Massar (a Zoology Professor at St Anthony’s College, Shillong) and James Haokip (a Professor of Anthropology at Sikkim University) are principal researchers. From the conventional rearing of fish in ponds and tanks, these two researchers are trying to conserve fish in their habitat.
This project research has pointed out that while Fish Conservation Zones are a novel project for the Indian context, the same has been successfully implemented in Laos and Myanmar where communities directly manage their local resources. They do this by identifying an area where the conservation of fish species is needed,and they typically close this area to all fishing activities. Rules for the same are imposed by official authorities and the area is monitored by members of the community, providing a haven for fish. Realizing the imminent need to conserve for the survival of almost extinct species of fish and enhancing local availability of the species for consumption, this project has been initiated to conserve fish in their habitat through a community-based fishery management model called Fish Conservation Zones.
Conservation activities
Through this Fish Conservation Zones, the researchers have carried out the following activities: (1) Transfer and sharing of knowledge about fish (2) Conservation zones and capacity building of communities across multiple hotspots (3) Identifying areas that are critical for long term survival of fish (4) Recording diversity of species and characteristics of the river (5) Creating a plan for long-term regulation and monitoring of fishing activities (6) Implementation of the plan and periodical reviews.
Outcomes of the project
The initial project has found these useful pieces of data (1) Generation of information on the diversity of fish in the Tuivang river, as well as their breeding seasons and locations, (2) Establishment of the first-ever community based and managed fish conservation zones in India which can become one of the pillars of river conservation strategies for State Governments in North-East India, (3) Civil society organizations, local community members and local researchers, will be trained in establishing community-based fish conserva- tion zones, fish taxonomy, biology and stream hydrology, (4)  Promote public appreciation for fish conservation and the requirement of ecological flows in rivers.
Each human being is a co-creator, not a destroyer. As much as humans try to preserve their lives, so also must we preserve and conserve the lives of other beings around us. This project is an initiative towards sustainable local conservation and consumption of fish. Depletion of fish is one area of the ecological crisis that threatens the survival of those living nearby. It is also fitting to analyze the causes of such an ecological crisis.
While analyzing the causes, the pro-active task of conservation is profoundly fitting. Community support is imperative for the safeguard of ecological resources. While sustenance-based harvest of resources is unavoidable, destructive exploitation of terrestrial and aquatic habitats greatly harm the ecosystem. Hence the need for conservation and sustainable use of non-renewable resources.

(The author is a PhD Research Scholar, Dept. of Sociology & Social Work at CHRIST (Deemed to be University), Bangalore, India. Email: [email protected])