Fish conservation scheme aids fight to save Mekong species from extinction

Fish has been a key ingredient of many local dishes since ancient times which is probably the main reason Lao people originally settled along the Mekong River and other smaller rivers across the country.
If we talk about which part of Laos is synonymous with Mekong fish, no one can dispute that Khong district or Siphandone - the 4000 Islands - is the real home to a multitude of fish species.
But with population growth in Laos the demand for fish has soared and this threatens to endanger countless species of Mekong fish which have been targeted in larger quantities to supply the market.

Fishermen in Khong district still rely on traditional fishing methods but some prefer to use illegal techniques that pose a direct extinction threat to many fish species.

At the same time, some fishermen are using illegal techniques, further increasing the risk of fish species extinction. Although the enforcement of the law on fisheries has been implemented to some extent, practical action is still inefficient due to various issues.
To address these issues, the Management and Sustainable Use of Fisheries and Aquatic Natural Resources in Siphandone Phase II project is now ongoing to benefit 20 villages in Khong and Mounlapamok districts, Champassak province.
This project is being co-implemented by the Department of Livestock and Fisheries under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-Laos) to promote sustainable aquatic development in the Siphandone area.
The second phase of the project (2017-2019) is being funded by WWF Germany and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development with over 4 billion kip (US$506,809) to promote work on increasing and improving the stock of aquatic resources through supporting effective patrolling of the Mekong River.
At the same time, Fish Conservation Zones (FCZ) as well as Fisheries Management Committees (FMC) have been formed. The main activities include raising awareness of Lao fisheries legislation and developing alternative sources of livelihoods.
Recently, the project management team met with the Deputy Director General of the Department of Livestock and Fisheries, Mr Bounthong Sapackdy, and Country Director of WWF-Laos Mr Somphone Bouasavanh to highlight achievements over the first six months of this project in Khong district.
After the meeting, the participants took part in site visits to various target villages in Khong district to hear about the practical implementation of the project.
During the visits, participants were impressed by the project’s progress but noted that more effective and sustainable ways of fishing should be promoted to ensure the project’s ongoing legacy after its completion date.
Country Director of WWF-Laos, Mr Somphone Bouasavanh, said WWF-Laos was impressed with the achievements of the first six months of the project.
“The fish conservation zone has contributed to helping 20 various villages in the Siphandone region. We also hope that this good deed will continue to go on sustainably even if the project comes to an end,” he said.
“WWF is a nature conservation organisation and we are working to help and support in building a future in which humans live in harmony with nature,” Mr Somphone added.
One of the residents of Thamuang village in Khong district, Mr Khamphanh Chanthavong, also said he was delighted to take part in the fish conservation project, believing it would provide a wide range of benefits to local communities.
“Under the project, I was chosen as a chicken breeder, as part of alternative ways to sustain a livelihood and income for my family,” he said, adding that earning income from poultry breeding was a good alternative to being heavily dependent on fishing.
Meanwhile, the Chief of Thamuang village, Mr Khamkhen, noted that his villagers were willing to participate in the fish conservation project and took part in demarcating the conservation zones.
“After six months, we see that more fish come to the zone because we can see them playing around. That is a good beginning for us,” he said.
The first phase of the project, which began in 2012, supported the creation or improvement of more than 37 FCZs and 30 FMCs in 30 villages, as well as the diversification and improvement of livelihoods for more than 800 households.
To further demonstrate the benefits of fish conservation zones, the Department of Livestock and Fisheries and WWF will use systematic monitoring and evaluation processes that will provide scientific grounds for the replication of the community fisheries model in other parts of Laos as well as the Greater Mekong region.
Setting up fish conservation zones will help ensure the livelihoods of people living along the Mekong River are secured and institutionally anchored through the sustainable management of natural resources.
Local people will obtain long-term benefits provided by the ecosystem servicing the lower reaches of the Mekong, in the border area of Laos and Cambodia.


By Bounfaeng Phaymanivong
(Latest Update February 7, 2018)

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