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Mekong River overfished, under pressure, MRC says

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A man fishes on the Mekong River in Koh Dach commune of Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar district in July. Hong Menea

Mekong River overfished, under pressure, MRC says

The Mekong River Commission (MRC) has released two reports that show fishing continues to be an important livelihood in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. However, the reports also indicate that overfishing and habitat degradation caused by rapid population growth, infrastructure development, and climate change are placing pressure on the Lower Mekong Basin’s fisheries.

The two 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) – were released on October 19.

The reports found that changes in the Lower Mekong Basin’s aquatic ecosystems are affecting social conditions while households continue to rely on water resources that are increasingly under stress.

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

To produce the SIMVA report, MRC surveyed 2,800 households with 35 per cent saying their income had been lower and 32 per cent saying it had remained the same. Another 26 per cent claimed their income had increased marginally while six per cent said their income had significantly increased, compared to 2013.

The report said detrimental changes in water resources – such as agriculture, aquaculture, fish, other aquatic animals and plants – are affecting incomes with around 22 per cent of households revealing they had been impacted by the problem.

It said other non-water resources-related livelihoods, such as employment or business or trading, play increasingly important roles and may reduce vulnerabilities to changes in the Mekong water resources.

The FADM report, on the other hand, said fishing communities in almost all areas of the Lower Mekong Basin had been disturbed. In Laos, two of four river stations surveyed revealed a decline in catch rates while in Vietnam it was three of five stations.

The report urged the governments of MRC member states to enforce national fisheries laws and jointly implement the approved Mekong Basin-wide Fisheries Management and Development Strategy to restore fishing communities under pressure.

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

The two reports caution that there is still significant scope for improvement that has policy implications for governments if communities are to be protected from water and climate-related vulnerabilities.

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