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Tor tambroid 160811-61602 ffi.JPG
Tor tambroides
Scientific classification
Gray, 1834
Rainboth, 1985
Mirza & Javed, 1985

See text for species.

Golden mahseer (Tor putitora) Babai River, Nepal
Golden mahseer (Tor putitora) Babai River, Nepal

Mahseer is the common name used for the genera Tor, Neolissochilus, and Naziritor in the family Cyprinidae (carps).[1][2][3] The name is, however, more often restricted to members of the genus Tor.[4] The range of these fish is from Vietnam in the east and China in the north, through Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and across southern Asia including the Indian Peninsula, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Afghanistan.[5][6][7] They are commercially important game fish, as well as highly esteemed food fish. Mahseer fetch high market price, and are potential candidate species for aquaculture.[8] Several of the larger species have suffered severe declines, and are now considered threatened due to pollution, habitat loss, overfishing and increasing concern about the impacts of unregulated release of artificially bred stock of a very limited number of species [9].

The taxonomy of the mahseers is confusing due to the morphological variations they exhibit. In developing strategies for aquaculture and propagation assisted rehabilitation of mahseer species, resolution of taxonomic ambiguities is needed [10] and adherence to IUCN stocking guidelines must be followed.

Mahseers inhabit both rivers and lakes, with most species believed to ascend into rapid streams with rocky bottoms for breeding. Like other types of carps, they are omnivorous, eating not only algae, crustaceans, insects, frogs, and other fish, but also fruits that fall from trees overhead.

The first species from this group were scientifically described by Francis Buchanan-Hamilton in 1822, and first mentioned as an angling challenge by the Oriental Sporting Magazine in 1833, soon becoming a favorite quarry of British anglers living in India.[11] The golden mahseer Tor putitora was previously believed to be the largest member of the group and one of the largest cyprinids; it has been known to reach 2.75 m (9 ft 0 in) in length and 54 kg (119 lb) in weight, although specimens of this size are rarely seen nowadays.[12]. Currently, the largest of the mahseer is Tor remadevii, which is known to grow to in excess of 120lb. In 2011, UK angler Ken Loughran landed a fish that was too heavy for the 120lb scales being used. This fish was claimed as a 'World record' at 130lb 10oz[13], although the weighing process used is in doubt. In addition to being caught for sport, mahseer are also part of commercial fishing and ornamental or aquarium fish.


The Hindi name of mahāsir, mahāser, or mahāsaulā is used for a number of fishes of the group. Several sources of the common name mahseer have been suggested: It has been said to be derived from Sanskrit, while others claim it is derived from Indo-Persian, mahi- fish and sher- tiger or "tiger among fish" in Persian.[citation needed] Alternatively, mahā-śalka, meaning large-scaled, is suggested, as the scales are so large that Francis Buchanan mentions that playing cards were made from them at Dacca. Another theory by Henry Sullivan Thomas suggests mahā-āsya: great mouth.[14] The name mahasher is commonly used in Urdu, Punjabi, and Kashmiri languages in Pakistan for this fish and is said to be made up of two local words: maha = big and sher = lion, as it ascends in the hilly rivers and streams of Himalaya courageously. Sadhale and Nene translate the Sanskrit word mahashila, as used in some texts [15] as "stone-like", interpreting that to mean a powerful fish.

It is also found in Nepal, where it is called sahar. (British anglers in India called them the Indian salmon.) In Indonesia/Malaysia, it is often called ikan (fish) kelah.

Some local names of mahseer


Advertisement for Mahseer fishing tackle 1897
Advertisement for Mahseer fishing tackle 1897

Sen and Jayaram restrict the term mahseer to members of the genus Tor. However, the few species of genus Neolissochilus and single species of genus Naziritor are also called as mahseer due to their large-sized scales and some similarities.[4]

Genus Tor

The genus Tor includes:[16]

Genus Neolissochilus

The genus Neolissochilus includes:[18]

Genus Naziritor

The genus Naziritor includes:[20]

Historical references

Researchers working at sites from the Harappan era or Indus Valley Civilisation, found collections of pottery decorated with fish motifs as well as fish bones left in midden pits. Hora [22] describes his interpretation of each of the species depicted on the painted pots, which include most of the species common today in the Indus basin, including mahseer. During his work on the remains of fish bones, renowned ethnoarchaeologist Dr William R. Belcher [23] discovered that while fish, including large species like Indian major carps and various catfish, comprised a substantial element of the diets of this 3300-1300 BCE civilisation, bones of mahseer were extremely rare [24]. It has been suggested [25] that this is the first known instance of mahseer being ‘revered’ or singled out from other fish species as ‘God’s fish’.

During the later period of the Chalukya dynasty, under the Western Chalukya Empire, King Someshvara III describes fishing in the rivers and seas around his kingdom, which include many areas that are inhabited by the mahseer species Tor remadevii, Tor malabaricus and Tor khudree [15]. The king includes “mahashila”, a “large river fish(es) of the scaly type.” He then goes on to describe the best methods of Angling for the various fish species to be encountered in his kingdom, including how to prepare baits for each. There is a further description of how to prepare the fish for cooking and eating.

Many of the most detailed descriptions of mahseer begin to appear during the British colonisation of India, in particular, during the British Raj of 1857 to 1947. Many of those stationed in India enjoyed angling for mahseer, which they compared to the thrill of catching a salmon ‘back home’. Indeed, Henry Sullivan Thomas, author of one of the first books on angling in the colonies [26] said “the mahseer shows more sport for its size than a salmon.” They also produced guidebooks and penned letters to sporting journals such as The Field and Fishing Gazette.

H.S. Thomas also gives a description of south Indian followers of Hinduism equating mahseer with Matsya, one of the incarnations of the god Vishnu and responsible for saving Manu from the flood. This tale is common in many of the classic Hindu texts, with the first reference being in the Shatapata Brahmana, part of the Vedas body of works dated from 1500-400 BCE.

In heraldry

Kurwai State coat of arms with a Mahseer as supporter.
Kurwai State coat of arms with a Mahseer as supporter.

Mahseer was an important symbol in the heraldry of certain Muslim-ruled former princely states of the Subcontinent such as Baoni, Bhopal, Kurwai and Rampur. Dost Mohammad Khan's son Yar Mohammad received from Nizam-ul-Mulk the insignia of the Maha Muratib (the dignity of the Fish).[27] The insignia became part of the Bhopal State's coat of arms.

The Mahseer fish as an emblem of the highest honour in royalty is allegedly from Persian origin and was adopted by the courts of Oudh and the Paigah nobles of Hyderabad State, being later passed down to other states of the area.[28] It also represents the National Fish of Pakistan (unofficial).

Conservation issues for mahseer

Movements of mahseer within India have been happening since the 1850s, at least [29]. During this period, the integrity and identity of species was poorly understood, which may have caused unintentional issues of Hybridisation between species or competition from invasive species.
Among the best documented areas where fish movements have been used for reasons of improving angling sport, or attempting to augment declining stocks are the Lakes of Kumaon hills. The Kumaon lakes, Bhimtal, Nainital, Naukuchiatal and Sathtal, were stocked with mahseer in 1858 by Sir H. Ramsey, with stock brought from the rivers Gola and Koli. According to Walker in his 'Angling in the Kumaon Lakes', the Bhimtal stocking was less successful, until a second batch of fish were introduced in 1878. Dr Raj, Fisheries Development Officer in United Provinces, in his 1945 report on the decline of mahseer stocks in the lakes says: “From all reports these isolated lakes had hardly any fish in them before the introduction of mahseer.” [30] This is clearly a misunderstanding of the history of mahseer in the lakes, as Walker earlier says: “When I first angled in Naini lake, in 1863 and 1864, there were comparatively few large mahsir in it; there were shoals of the lake fish (Barbus Chilinoides) and many small trout (Barilius Bola). A morning's catch would include a couple of small mahsir, eight or nine ' lake-fish' and two or three trout. Gradually the mahsir have reduced the numbers of the other fish until it is a rare circumstance to catch a ‘lake-fish’ with the fly, and I have not for many years seen a single trout, although I heard of one being caught last year by a troller.” [31] The inference must be that the introductions of mahseer into the lakes caused the unexpected decline of several native fish stocks, either due to competition, or by direct predation and that the earlier fish stocks were notable.

In Himachal Pradesh, golden mahseer is depleting at a fast rate from the state even though it was categorised as an endangered species by the National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources as early as 1992.

In common with most areas within the geographic range of mahseers, the factors leading to this situation are mainly anthropogenic distortion of rivers due to the construction of river valley projects, multipurpose dams, shrinking habitat, poaching and other stock exploitation, and widespread introduction of invasive species [32].
Intentional stocking of mahseers in the trans-Himalayan region have been taking place for several years [33]. It has been reported that the Teesta River in Sikkim and West Bengal has been stocked with hundreds of thousands of golden mahseer every year since at least 2014 in a drive to promote angling in the region [34]. That the fish stocks continue to decline [35][36] suggests that the policy needs to be reviewed and more efforts devoted to improving habitat as the first priority.

Revision of all mahseer species

In May 2019, Mahseer Trust and collaborators published a major revision paper [25]. This paper includes the latest IUCN Red Listing status and validity of 16 species of the Tor genus. Following this publication, fresh impetus into understanding the ecology of wild populations and establishing more secure species identities will allow coherent conservation programmes to be enacted, and fish currently listed Data Deficient to be accorded with relevant threat status.


Over several decades, concerned organisations have arranged conferences to debate issues around mahseer conservation. Among the early events was the Kuala Lumpur Conference of 2005, and in 2014, WWF-India convened a forum in Delhi [37]. Both of these events looked at many issues specific to mahseer, and typical outputs included measures to investigate greater understanding of mahseer ecology. In 2017, Mahseer Trust convened a different kind of event, by including representatives to discuss all aspects of both the fish and the river habitat in which they live. This unique conference included sessions aired live on social media, with a final question and answer session reaching 6,000 viewers [38].

December 2018 saw the First International Conference, in Paro, Bhutan [39]. The output booklet is available to download here Among the many recommendations were increased research into the ecology of wild mahseer and ensuring artificial breeding of mahseer is done under strict control using IUCN guidelines.

The next major mahseer conference is to be held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, in February 2020 [40].


  1. ^ Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2008). Species of Tor in FishBase. April 2008 version.
  2. ^ Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2008). Species of Neolissochilus in FishBase. April 2008 version.
  3. ^ Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2008). Species of Naziritor in FishBase. April 2008 version.
  4. ^ a b Sen TK, Jayaram KC, 1982. The Mahseer Fish of India – a Review. Rec. Zoological Survey of India. Misc. Publ. Occasional Paper 39, 38p.
  5. ^ Menon AGK, 1992. Taxonomy of mahseer fishes of the genus Tor Gray with description of a new species from the Deccan. J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 89 (2):210–228
  6. ^ Roberts TR (1999). "Fishes of the cyprinid genus Tor in the Nam Theun watershed, Mekong Basin of Laos, with description of a new species" (PDF). Raffles Bulletin of Zoology. 47 (1): 225–236. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-04-25.
  7. ^ Jha, B.R. & Rayamajhi, A. (2010). "Tor putitora". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2010: e.T166645A6254146. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2010-4.RLTS.T166645A6254146.en.
  8. ^ Ogale, S.N. 2002 Mahseer breeding and conservation and possibilities of commercial culture. The Indian experience. In T. Petr and D.B. Swar (eds.) Cold Water Fisheries in the Trans-Himalayan Countries. FAO Fish. Tech. Pap. 431.
  9. ^'s_River_Cauvery_An_endemic_fish_swimming_towards_extinction
  10. ^ Mohindra, V.; Khare, Praveen; Lal, K. K.; Punia, P.; Singh, R. K.; Barman, A. S. & Lakra, W. S. (2007). "Molecular discrimination of five Mahseer species from Indian peninsula using RAPD analysis". Acta Zoologica Sinica. 53 (4): 725–732. Archived from the original on 2012-04-26.
  11. ^ Cordington, K. De. B. 1939. Notes on Indian Mahseer. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 46: 336–334
  12. ^ Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2013). "Tor putitora" in FishBase. March 2013 version.
  13. ^ "130 lb World record mahseer shock". 2011-04-09.
  14. ^ Yule, Henry, Sir. Hobson-Jobson: A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases, and of kindred terms, etymological, historical, geographical and discursive. New ed. edited by William Crooke, B.A. London: J. Murray, 1903.
  15. ^ a b On fish in Manasollasa (c. 1131 AD) N Sadhale, YL Nene - Asian Agri-Hist, 2005 -
  16. ^ Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2012). Species of Tor in FishBase. November 2012 version.
  17. ^ Knight, J.D. Marcus; Rai, Ashwin; d'Souza, Ronald K.P. (2013). "On the identities of Barbus mussullah Sykes and Cyprinus curmuca Hamilton with notes on the status of Gobio canarensis Jerdon (Teleostei: Cyprinidae)". Zootaxa. 3750 (3): 201. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.3750.3.1. PMID 25113692.
  18. ^ Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2012). Species of Neolissochilus in FishBase. November 2012 version.
  19. ^
  20. ^ Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2012). Species of Naziritor in FishBase. November 2012 version.
  21. ^
  22. ^ Fish paintings of the third millennium BC from Nal (Baluchistan) and their zoogeographical significance SL Hora - 1956 - Manager of Publications, Civil Lines
  23. ^ "William Belcher".
  24. ^ Fish exploitation of the Baluchistan and Indus Valley traditions: an ethnoarchaeological approach to the study of fish remains WR Belcher - 1998 -
  25. ^ a b Pinder, A.C., Britton, J.R., Harrison, A.J. et al. Rev Fish Biol Fisheries (2019).
  26. ^ The Rod In India
  27. ^ Hough, William (1845). A brief history of the Bhopal principality in Central India. Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press. pp. 1–4. OCLC 16902742.
  28. ^ Saad Bin Jung, Subhan and I: My Adventures with the Angling Legend of India. Roli Books, New Delhi 2012
  29. ^ The journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. Bombay Natural History Society. 1951.
  30. ^
  31. ^ file:///C:/Users/hp/Downloads/1888%20Angling%20in%20the%20Kumaun%20Lakes%20by%20Walker%20s.pdf
  32. ^ Nishikant Gupta & Mark Everard (2019) Non-native fishes in the Indian Himalaya: an emerging concern for freshwater scientists, International Journal of River Basin Management, 17:2, 271-275, DOI: 10.1080/15715124.2017.1411929
  33. ^
  34. ^ "GTA push to angling tourism with golden mahseer - Hill body to promote fishing in Teesta and Rangit with help from tour conductors and UK organisation".
  35. ^
  36. ^ "Endangered Golden mahseer Tor putitora Hamilton: A review of natural history | Scinapse | Academic search engine for paper".
  38. ^ "Mahseer conference outlines new strategies for conservation of iconic fish".
  39. ^ "Mahseer Conference – IMC".
  40. ^

Other sources

  • Nautiyal, Prakash, ed. 1994. Mahseer: The Game Fish. Natural History, Status and Conservation Practices in India and Nepal. Rachna.
  • Silas, E. G., Gopalakrishnan, A., John, L., and Shaji, C. P.. 2005. Genetic identity of Tor malabaricus (Jerdon) (Teleostei: Cyprinidae) as revealed by RAPD markers. Indian journal of fish. 52(2): 125–140.
  • Rainboth, W. J. 1985. Neolissochilus, a new group of South Asia Cyprinid fishes. Beaufortia. 35(3): 25–35.
  • Mirza, M. R., and Javed, M. N. 1985. A note on Mahseer of Pakistan with the description of Naziritor, a new subgenus (Pisces: Cyprinidae). Pakistan Journal of Zoology. 17: 225–227.
  • Arunkumar; & Ch. Basudha. 2003. Tor barakae, a new species of mahseer fish (Cyprinidae: Cyprininae) from Manipur, India. Aquacult. 4(2): 271–276.
  • Ambak, M.A., Ashraf, A.H. and Budin, S. 2007. Conservation of the Malaysian Mahseer in Nenggiri Basin through Community Action. In: Mahseer, The Biology, Culture and Conservation. Malaysian Fisheries Society Occasional Publication No.14, Kuala Lumpur 2007:217–228
  • National Agricultural Technology Project, 2004. Germplasm inventory, evaluation and gene banking of freshwater fishes. World Bank funded Project MM, No: 27/28/98/NATP/MM-III, 18-32p. National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources, Lucknow India.

External links

This page was last edited on 13 January 2020, at 13:50
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