Steps Taken To Preserve Fisheries on the Mekong

epa05099822 Cambodians work on their fishing boat on the Mekong river in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 13 January 2016. Fishing is second only to rice cultivation as a source of livelihood for Cambodian people along the Mekong river and Tonle Sap lake supporting the lives of whole communities. Tonle Sap Lake is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Southeast Asia and provides some 350,000 to 400,000 tons of fish for the people's supply and trading. EPA/MAK REMISSA

The Department of Fisheries will roll out a number of measures to help cushion the impacts of dam construction in the upper reaches of the Mekong River on Thai fishermen.

Department chief, Adisorn Promthep, said the measures will entail further diplomatic coordination with Laos — which hosts most of the dams — and stepping up existing conservation efforts.

“We need to discuss the urgent need to protect and preserve freshwater resources with Laos, as we have seen the impacts [of dam construction] first-hand, and we need to do something to lessen the impacts,” said Mr Adisorn at a press conference following a forum on the future of fisheries in the Mekong River yesterday.

Mr Adisorn said that the department is seeking the cooperation of Lao fisheries officials to conserve freshwater fish and other aquatic species in the Mekong River. “We haven’t been able to do so directly,” he said.

“This is why we need the Mekong River Commission [MRC] to initiate the dialogue.”

The MRC is the only inter-governmental organisation that works directly with the governments of countries in the Mekong River basin to sustainably manage the shared water resource.

Domestically, the department is going to introduce a programme called “Fisheries Watch”, Mr Adisorn said.

“This will serve as a monitoring, as well as an early warning system for fishermen downstream of the dams,” he said. “The programme will alert fishermen to any changes to the water flow initiated by engineers in China, Laos or both countries.”

The department will also establish “Fish Stock Zones” on the Mekong River as well as its tributaries, in a bid to keep fish stocks from collapsing, said Mr Adisorn.

Furthermore, he added, the department plans to construct a number of fish corridors, so migratory fish can make their way upstream to spawn.

“A number of man-made obstacles along the river have prevented fish from reaching their spawning grounds upstream, so we need to create these corridors,” he said.

Mr Adisorn said the department is also planning to release stocks of fish which are endemic to the river, such as the Mekong giant catfish. That said, he stressed that all fish to be reintroduced must be native to the area.

“Releasing breeding stocks into the wild is not the best way to preserve a species, as survival rates are relatively low,” he said. “The best way to protect a species is by conserving its natural habitat.”

When asked about the number of fishermen affected by the drought that caused the Mekong River to dip to record lows in the middle of the rainy season, Mr Adisorn said data is still being collected on the matter.

About 60 million people depend on the Mekong River basin, which accounts for about 25% of the world’s freshwater fish catch.