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Conserving Upper Kain River, Baleh, Sarawak

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May 1, 2021
Environmental Conservation
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The Issue

Fish such as Empurau (Tor tambroides) and Semah (Tor douronensis) are fish species synonyms to Sarawak. Empurau or Kelah, is regarded as the king of riverine fish in Malaysia, while Semah is the state fish of Sarawak. In Sarawak, these Tor species, also called Mahseers, were abundant in the 1970’s, but have now become difficult to find because rivers are becoming more polluted. This calls for strategic management and conservation efforts to ensure these fish continue to thrive in our Sarawak rivers.

Thus, WWF-Malaysia is working towards improving watershed management through an integrated manner. We work closely with the government and private sectors and communities to ensure that river basins are managed properly with consideration for flows that sustain rivers and aquatic ecosystems health.

Through collaborative efforts with the Inland Fisheries Division (IFD) of the Department of Agriculture (DoA) Sarawak, we identified Kain River in Baleh as a High Conservation Value (HCV) river for mahseers. Subsequently, we proposed that the Tagang system, a community-based conservation approach for sustainable management of fish, be implemented here.

The communities from Rumah Gare and Rumah Engsong (two longhouses’ name) from upper Baleh are with us on this project. These Iban communities are excellent stewards who know the rivers like the back of their hands. They are supportive of the Tagang system as they understand how it enables them to sustainably manage and financially benefit from it. They organised their longhouse people and set up a Tagang committee to lead the implementation to ensure there are shared responsibilities and ownership among them over the tagang.

The communities are also responsible to keep out anyone from fishing in the prohibited area by setting up an agreed system of rules and penalties as part of their management. With assistance from the experts, they conducted ground marking to zone their river into:

  • Red Zone: No activities are allowed. Generally area for protection of spawning sites and juveniles.
  • Yellow Zone: Minimal disturbance only. Occasional fishing is allowed.
  • Green Zone: Human activities are allowed. Fishing and recreational activities can be done here.

In one of the assessments, we discovered that Kain River has the micro habitats needed by Mahseer, including abundance of food such as Ensurai (Dipterocarpus oblongifolius) and Engkabang (Shorea macrophylla) seeds. For the conservation of Mahseer, we must also conserve the riverbank vegetation. The Ensurai and Engkabang trees growing along the river must be protected. Furthermore, these trees also prevent riverbank erosion. The local villagers are motivated to conserve Engkabang trees as they can extract oil from their seeds, which is sold for additional income.

WWF-Malaysia can be reached at:

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The Solution

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The Solution

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