From scientific obscurity to conservation priority: research on angler catch rates is the catalyst for saving the hump-backed mahseer Tor remadevii from extinction
Authors: Pinder, A., Raghavan, R. and Britton, J.R.
Journal: Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
1. The mahseer (Tor spp.) fishes of South and Southeast Asia are iconic megafaunal species that are highly valued by recreational anglers. Knowledge on their populations is limited due to the challenges associated with sampling these large bodied fishes (>50kg) in remote monsoonal rivers. Despite its global iconic status among recreational anglers, the hump-backed mahseer of South India’s River Cauvery lacked a valid scientific name and was on a trajectory towards extinction until its rapidly declining population status was established by analyses of angler catch records.
2. Angling records from 1998 to 2012 revealed that mahseer catch rates had increased in the period. The resulting publication in Aquatic Conservation (AQC) highlighted the positive role of catch-and-release angling in providing information on data-poor species. However, further analyses revealed these catches comprised of not one but two distinct phenotypes. Prior to 1993, all mahseer captured were hump-backed; since then, a blue-fin phenotype appeared in catches and subsequently dominated them. These results triggered further studies that revealed the hump-backed mahseer was the endemic Tor remadevii and the blue-fin was the invasive Tor khudree that had been introduced in 1976 and then stocked periodically from hatcheries.
3. The initial AQC publication successfully demonstrated the high value of organised angling as a monitoring tool for data-poor fishes and its application to assessing the temporal population patterns of large bodied fishes in monsoonal rivers. It was also the catalyst for initiating subsequent studies on T. remadevii that, in entirety, enabled its recent assessment as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List. In the absence of the AQC paper, and the subsequent studies it triggered, it is highly probable that the species would have remained on a trajectory towards rapid extinction. Instead, the first major steps to safeguarding its future have been taken.