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Along the plainland in the south of Nepal, fish farming has been a very successful income generation activity for poor communities, as well as providing much-need protein for local diets. Could the many lakes in the middle hills of Nepal be used in the same way? Such a venture has not been tried in Nepal before. UMN and its partner N-PAF are working with a community to raise fish in Syarpu Lake, Rukum.

This project has many challenges, not the least of which is the remoteness of the lake. It was a rough 200 km ride for the first 90,000 fish fingerlings (technical term for little baby fish) from the Terai (plainland) in the south all the way to Lake Syarpu. We’re not sure whether fish get car-sick, but we can be confident that those fish were very happy to reach their destination. It was astonishing that 85% of the little creatures survived the two-day journey. About 24,700 were placed in nursery cages, while the rest have been released unrestricted into the lake.

About 450 households stand to benefit from this project, using about 40 hectares of the lake. A local committee has been formed, consisting of 11 people (3 women) from the area surrounding the lake. Their job is to take care of the cages, feed the fish, observe and record their growth, and report regularly to UMN’s partner in Rukum.

Despite the major location change and a chilly winter, the fish have done well. To date, 950 kg fish worth NRS 214,000 (GBP 1,318) have been harvested and sold in the market. Three local people have a part-time job catching fish. From March 2014, the new harvest will start, and all involved are hoping for a good return.

In the meantime, the community is getting organised, and planning how it will make the best use of the new income. A community-based Social Mobiliser and a Project Co-ordinator have been recruited by N-PAF, and 12 community groups have been formed.

In the next three months, the community plans to form and register a fish co-operative. After registration, the co-operative will work to take over the lake ownership from Bafikot VDC (the local government authority) for a five-year term, for the purpose of fish farming and eco-tourism activities.

Fresh fish and chips in Rukum? Hard to believe, but perhaps this project will help make it a reality!