Taimen are an extremely sensitive species and not easy to protect. Taimen once inhabited regions from Hokkaido to the Danube. Wild populations are now reduced to a few isolated pockets in remote places like Mongolia. Without aggressive conservation action supported by the international angling community, these remaining pockets of wild taimen will be lost.

Taimen (Hucho hucho taimen) are the world’s largest salmonid, historically reaching lengths of 6.5 ft. and weighing as much as 200 lbs. This unique fish is incredibly slow growing, long lived (up to 40 years) and late to reach sexual maturity (5-7 years). Taimen are top-tier predators, existing on a scale different than nearly all other freshwater species. Most scientists estimate that the healthiest Mongolian rivers contain no more than twenty (20) adult taimen per kilometer. That is a very low population density if one considers that these same stretches of river likely hold hundreds of trout and grayling. Giant trophy taimen over fifty inches are even more widely dispersed. Only a handful of these great fish inhabit even the best taimen rivers.

Taimen are highly susceptible to direct harvest and changes to water quality. Taimen need vast stretches of pristine water to survive. An adult taimen may utilize over sixty miles (one-hundred kilometers) of river during a single season, moving between spawning, summer, and winter habitats.

Taimen populations in Mongolia are threatened by poaching, habitat loss from mining, overgrazing and other development activities, and unsustainable recreational fishing practices. Biological characteristics coupled with overuse and habitat loss have resulted in a drastic species decline throughout its native habitat. In Mongolia alone taimen have lost 19.1% of their native range and distribution (Hogan et al., IUCN Red Listing 2012). In 2012, Siberian taimen were for the first time listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It has been determined that a 50% loss in overall species abundance occurred over the past three generations in Mongolia (Hogan et al., IUCN Red Listing 2012).

One would think that the difficulty associated with access to taimen populations would deter legal and illegal anglers; that is not the case. It does however render enforcement extremely difficult. To combat the lack of enforcement, Mongolian outfitters have invested time and resources into sustainable catch-and-release taimen fisheries, and have implemented comprehensive place-based conservation projects with local and national partners.

The handful of responsible Mongolian fly-fishing companies now measure their business success by how well they protect taimen and taimen habitat. Conservation partnerships between fly-fishing outfitters and local communities generate community-based incentives for conservation, including jobs, investments, and government revenue. People living closest to the river now actively support conservation and act as “river keepers”, protecting their taimen and rivers from harm. Fly-fishing companies, government agencies, communities, and the scientific community work together to conduct world-class research to build knowledge and awareness designed to secure the long-term survival of taimen.

There is much left to accomplish and many more Mongolian rivers to protect. However, successes to date prove that responsible and ethical “catch-and-release” fly-fishing for taimen can lead to increased numbers of fish, protected watersheds and economic improvements for rural Mongolia.