The RiverKeeper program throughout the Eg Watershed of Hovsgol Province has long been the flagship program of The Taimen Fund. Poaching is a significant threat to the survival of taimen, especially as the rivers become more accessible from Ulaanbaatar due to road improvements. Without adequate safeguards, poaching will only increase. Mongolia’s Ministry of Environment and Green Development has instituted catch-and-release, single-hook-barbless regulations for all taimen fishing in Mongolia, but without an increase in enforcement, outreach and education, these regulations may not be enough to help protect taimen for future generations.
The Taimen Fund provides funding for the RiverKeeper Program in partnership with our Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia-based sister organization, The Taimen Conservation Fund (TCF). The RiverKeeper Program is an ambitious anti-poaching project spanning a total of seven different soums (villages) throughout the Eg Watershed along approximately 120 miles of river. This blue ribbon taimen fishery is a well-known destination managed by Hovsgol Travel Company and promoted by a number of booking agents worldwide. Although the RiverKeeper Program places an emphasis on patrolling and anti-poaching efforts, there is also an engrained community outreach component as well.
The RiverKeepers employed in the program are typically local herders that spend a great amount of their time caring for their animals along the riverbanks of the Eg River and its tributaries. These individuals, with generations of historical experience in the watershed, are stewards of the land and the river as well. TTF appreciates the intangible benefit this brings to the RiverKeeper Program. Patrollers on their own accord will often forego a call to the local police when they can use the opportunity to turn the encounter into a means of educating those encountered. TTF is pleased with the culturally-responsible approach taken in these situations and are encouraged by the transparency of such acts in corresponding reporting.
Additionally, RiverKeepers are also very sensitive to the negative effect that outsiders, local or foreign, can have on the health of the fishery. Therefore, they do not take poaching lightly and like most small communities worldwide keep an eye out for suspicious behavior taking place in their own back yard (pasture in this case.) The knowledge that the RiverKeepers have of the surrounding environment and the terrain make them an invaluable resource in anti-poaching efforts and most importantly a natural ally in the effort to protect an important watershed like the Eg River.
Off the river, RiverKeepers and TCF team managers participate in other efforts to prevent poaching through visiting classrooms, meeting with local government officials and hosting events to engage soum residents, creating an environment where they can reach a wider audience. Events as simple as hosting a volleyball tournament have been a great means to meet people and better explain fishing laws and the negative impact that poaching has on communities and the overall health of the river. In 2017, local partner TCF presented a one-day “Let’s Protect Taimen” event to the 9th-grade class of Erdenebulgan soum where environmental legislation and fishing regulations were introduced to the students – between games of volleyball.
The RiverKeeper Program and the combined efforts of TTF/TCF have been successful over the years. Granted, poaching still exists, yet on a much smaller scale. One of the unforeseen side benefits of the program is the trend towards the increase in legal fishing, which was virtually non-existent at the program’s inception. It is refreshing to see Mongolians gravitate towards legal sport fishing and an increasing interest in fly-fishing as well. As successful as the program has been we want to continue to bolster our efforts in anti-poaching, outreach and education to protect one of the last strongholds of Taimen existing in the world.