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Asia

Panel urges protection of Mekong fish stocks

Measures are needed to ensure food supplies for millions of people who rely on the river

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: October 19, 2021 08:09 AM GMT

Updated: October 19, 2021 08:15 AM GMT

Panel urges protection of Mekong fish stocks

A fishing boat sails along the Mekong River at sunrise near Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Around 65 million people rely on the river for the chief source of protein and livelihood. (Photo: AFP)

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) today released two reports recommending the protection of fish stocks to ensure food supplies for millions of people in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

Around 65 million people rely on the Mekong for their chief source of protein and live hand to mouth, but climate change, drought, dam construction in Laos and China and illegal fishing have resulted in sharply lower fish catches.

The reports — Status and Trends of Fish Abundance and Diversity in the Lower Mekong Basin during 2007–2018 (FADM) and Social Impact Monitoring and Vulnerability Assessment 2018 (SIMVA 2018) — found people continue to rely on water resources that are increasingly under pressure.

“These studies further highlight the importance of responsible development, balanced regional and national interest, and stronger regional cooperation in order to safeguard the Mekong River water and related resources,” said MRC secretariat chief executive An Pich Hatda.

Adverse changes in water resources, which include agriculture, aquaculture, fish, other aquatic animals and plants, are affecting incomes, with around 22 percent of households indicating they had been impacted by these issues.

According to the SIMVA 2018, 35 percent of 2,800 surveyed households said their income was lower, 32 percent said it was the same and only 26 percent said that their income increased slightly, while 6 percent indicated that their income increased significantly compared to 2013.

The SIMVA 2018 survey revealed that the percentage of households engaging in fishing fell across the region from 50 percent in 2014 to about 37 percent in 2018

The 138-page long FADM is the first ever large-scale study to consider both spatial and temporal variations of fish abundance and diversity in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) using the MRC’s long-term fisheries monitoring data.

The MRC said the study established that fishing communities in almost all zones of the LMB were disturbed. In Laos and Vietnam, catch rates declined at two of four and three of five stations surveyed respectively.

Among its other findings, the SIMVA 2018 survey revealed that the percentage of households engaging in fishing fell across the region from 50 percent in 2014 to about 37 percent in 2018.

It said this was due in part to reduction in fish catches and partly to growth in other economic opportunities and livelihoods diversification.

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The reports also found that gender inequality was also an important factor stoking societal vulnerabilities. Traditional gender roles were prevalent in “many areas of the LMB corridor” with major disparities in employment and pay between women and men.

It said female-headed households were particularly exposed as they were also single-parent households. The survey found 19 percent of households were headed by females and 81 percent by males.

As part of broader recommendations, the study urged governments to enforce fisheries laws and jointly implement the approved Mekong Basin-wide Fisheries Management and Development Strategy to restore distressed fishing communities.

It also further proposes integrating river management plans to address risks from increasing hydropower development.

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