The Challenge and Opportunity
Taimen are a long-lived, top-tier predator. They are the largest of all salmonids. An individual taimen’s home range often exceeds one-hundred kilometers. A taimen requires seven years to reach sexual maturity and up to forty years to reach 1.25 meters. They exist in relatively low abundance even in healthy river systems. Their survival depends upon extensive, pristine cold river systems with a healthy prey base.
Only a handful of wild river systems spread across Mongolia and Russia maintain healthy taimen populations. Although the habitats of remaining taimen fisheries are distinct, each faces similar conservation opportunities and challenges.
Habitat degradation and overharvest of taimen and/or taimen prey species are the primary threats. Taimen are very sensitive to human disturbance. Unsustainable timber harvest, mining, over-grazing, pollution, dams, irrigation, and hatcheries quickly deplete taimen fisheries.
The few people who live within the world’s last remaining taimen watersheds generally rely upon natural resource use and have relatively low-income levels. Safeguarding these taimen strongholds often requires assisting local communities to recognize the social and economic value of taimen conservation.
Luckily, taimen are a highly desired sport fish. Properly managed and professionally implemented “high value – low impact” catch and release sport fishing represents a unique opportunity to generate value and ensure taimen conservation.
Background and Objective
Mongolian and US founders established Mongolia River Outfitters/Fish Mongolia (MRO/FM) nearly twenty years ago.
Our business objective is to prove that world-class fly-fishing operations can catalyze enduring conservation impacts.
Our business success indicator is: “Do our actions promote and enhance the conservation of taimen and associated habitats?”
We have firmly established a reputation as a top-tier fly-fishing operation, and enjoy a very high guest-return rate. This reputation is based in part due to MRO/FM’s uniquely effective conservation program.
We are responsible for helping to protect two taimen strongholds through our two fishing operations in Mongolia (Mongolia River Outfitters and Fish Mongolia).
MRO/FM organizes conservation programming according to five platforms: habitat conservation, science, public awareness, community incentives, and regulations/enforcement.
- Habitat Conservation:
MRO/FM works to protect taimen habitat at the watershed level, making certain both sanctuaries are managed in their entirety for the benefit of taimen. Our efforts have resulted in 9 individual Soums (counties) working in partnership with MRO/FM to protect approximately 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) of taimen habitat. The first “taimen sanctuary” was established in 2008. The second in 2015. Streamside set-backs regulate development. Hatcheries, dams/diversions, and the use of motorboats are not allowed. Both are designated catch and release fly fishing only, with a single barbless hook.
We continue to work to improve upon the taimen sanctuary model and combat the continual threats to the purity of these river systems. Our staff recently halted a proposed hydro project, and we’ve shut down several proposals over the years from various Czech scientists plotting small-scale hatchery projects. We are supporting the local communities fighting a potential placer gold mine. There are emerging industrial agriculture activities that threaten to de-water taimen streams despite the taimen sanctuary designation.
MRO/FM promotes and supports science to inform conservation decision-making. Over the years we have assisted and implemented several initiatives. These include: simple data collection and recording of all angler catch records; several marked recapture studies; assisting with an on-ongoing genetics study; and, conducting annual redd counts to understand taimen populations and spawning behavior.
- Public Awareness:
MRO/FM works to build public awareness informed by science. We actively engage with decision-makers and stakeholders through a variety of forums: formal workshops, meetings, reports, and river management planning. Our staff meets regularly with schools, fishing clubs, tourism organizations, government agencies, and conducts streamside stakeholder education. MRO/FM has a high level of media exposure with messaging focused upon taimen conservation. We have supported films, articles and social media reaching hundreds of thousands. From 2009 – 2012, MRO/FM and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) raised funding and implemented a very successful Rare Pride Campaign. An important result was the identification of local “poachers” and the organizing of these poachers into NGO “fishing clubs”. Six fishing clubs now support sustainable fishing practices and help regulate non-resident Mongolian anglers.
- Community Incentives:
MRO/FM is perhaps the world’s best example of how to use sustainable fly-fishing to create incentives for community-based conservation engagement.
Our operations allows MRO/FM to provide approximately twenty permanent and over fifty-seasonal (May – October) positions. This means dozens of families living in and/or near the taimen sanctuaries are employed to conserve taimen.
In 2019, we initiated a farm to table program. MRO/FM prepares over 14,000 individual meals each year. Our chefs purchase most meat from local providers. However, much of our fresh produce has historically from the capital city. We are now supporting local communities to grow basic fresh produce as a means to diversify local economies, improve nutrition, and drive a greater percentage of spending into local households.
Every angler on one of our fishing trips purchases a $500 taimen permit fee (included in the trip costs). These fees go directly into local Soum (county) budgets, making up critical budget short-falls required to support local schools and other community services.
MRO/FM generates additional conservation value through donations and volunteers. We have supported scholarship programs, training and capacity programs, and provided critically needed emergency funding for Soums and protected areas. Every year, we sponsor river clean-up campaigns with guides, staff and community members joining together to float each river.
Our “flagship” incentive program is the annual “Healthy Taimen Festival”, conducted in partnership with BioRegions International. Health professionals who also happen to be enthusiastic anglers volunteer a day or two of their services to local school children before joining a scheduled MRO/FM fly fishing adventure. At a recent event, over 150 school children received health screenings and treatments from two international angling doctors, a dentist, a dental technician, and several Mongolian counterparts.
BioRegions team members and volunteers — along with our angler volunteers, guides and staff — provide health care activities, training for local health care personnel, and conduct educational conservation programs and fun games. These community events reinforce the potential value and benefits associated with protecting taimen.
- Regulation and Enforcement:
MRO/FM supports enforcement and regulatory improvements to directly address threats and build better behaviors. Over a decade ago, MRO/FM pushed through passage of national taimen conservation regulations to establish a taimen permitting process and require catch/release and single-barbless hooks only. MRO/FM was also instrumental in the inclusion of taimen as a national red-listed species. MRO/FM provisions enforcement officers with equipment, uniforms, and cash for operations. Our staff works year-round to support wildlife law enforcement efforts.
Partners in Conservation
To help facilitate our varied conservation efforts in the two taimen sanctuaries, we partner with some incredible non-profit (non-governmental) organizations, including the Wild Salmon Center (www.wildsalmoncenter.org), BioRegions International (www.bioregions.org), World Wildlife Fund (www.worldwildlife.org), The Nature Conservancy (www.nature.org), and the University of Nevada-Reno.
Please contact us to learn more about fly fishing for taimen and taimen conservation in Mongolia.