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Saturday September 17, 2005
By Anthony Geoffrey
The Mahseer, or Kelah, is perhaps the most elusive freshwater gamefish in Malaysia.
However, this fish is widespread throughout East and South-East Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.
There are about 20 species of Mahseer in Asia. Ng Chee Kiat’s book Kings of the Rivers: Mahseer in Malaysia and the Region is a comprehensive work on the fish. Colourful and readable, the 10 chapters explain the biology of the Tor genus (Mahseer), its distribution, economic importance and decline.
The book also points out false Mahseers, such as the ikan tengas, long thought to be a sub-species.
Kings of the Rivers was three years in the making, and Ng visited every country in which the fish was a native species.
One of the most interesting parts of the book is the description of the full lifecycle of the Mahseer, from the eggs to hatchlings, to adulthood complete with quality photos of each stage. Ng also discusses the feeding habits of the Mahseer in differing environments, from the mighty rivers of the Himalayas to the tropical rainforests.
The taxonomy of the Mahseer is dissected in detail. It would be impossible not to be able to differentiate between real Mahseer and false Mahseer after reading this book. The technical part over, Ng goes on in subsequent chapters to cover Mahseer in the region before focusing on Malaysia. Here, he covers the premier Kelah rivers of the country, the economic importance of the fish and, of course, angling.
“In Peninsula Malaysia there are two, or possibly three, species of Kelah,” Ng writes.
Research has shown that at present only Tor tambra and Tor dairanesis, known as the Indonesian Mahseer and the Large Sealed Mahseer respectively, have been positively identified. Tar tambroides (Thai Mahseer), once verified, will be the third species extant in the Peninsula.
“In Sarawak,” he explains, “there are the same two species known as Empurau and Semah.”
In Sabah, only one species has been “discovered” so far. Known locally as ikan pelian, this species has only recently been identified. DNA testing has proved it to be a new species and a scientific name will be conferred.
But more than anything, this book details the fragile environment with regard to the survival of the Kelah. Ng outlines the river systems in Malaysia where this magnificent fish still roams and discusses its chances of survival in our ever-changing environment.
There is actually one whole chapter on fishing (angling) for the Mahseer. “You don’t just fish for the Kelah: it’s a complete hunting experience,” he says.
The final chapter, “Conservation of the Mahseer”, presents reasons for the decline of this gracious species and outlines some specific examples of what has been done to preserve the fish throughout the region.
The fish needs to be totally protected in Malaysia. Only catch-and-release should be allowed and enforcement needs to be stepped up. The Tagal system in Sabah provides a perfect example. The local kampung folk get to take part in the harvest once or twice a year, releasing both juvenile and breeding-sized fish, and anglers get to enjoy fishing while putting money into the local economy through the hire of guides, food etc.
Ng must be congratulated for his excellent work. His endeavour in producing this book reflects his passion for conservation and preservation. Born in Raub, Ng completed his BSc in fisheries at Universiti Malaya. His MSc in Aquaculture was undertaken at Universiti Pertanian Malaysia (now Universiti Putra Malaysia).
He has been involved in Aquaculture since graduating. At present, apart from being the President of the Malaysian Fisheries Society, he is managing director of Inter Sea Fishery (M) Sdn Bhd and Agro Harvest Sdn Bhd, a biotech company involved in fish breeding. Kings of the Rivers is the culmination of his interest in the Mahseer and an excellent book.
Angling is a multi-million dollar business, as is the trade in exotic/ tropical fish. We can only win by reading this book and understanding the need for conservation. W
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