Mekong Mother Gives Short Resources to Her Child
By Chheang Sopheng, Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA),
Pawan Seangmaney spent more than 30 years as a fisherman on the Mekong
River, feeding his family of eight and selling the surplus
Now he has become a farmer.
"There are no fish
in the river now," said the 48-year-old man from Kok Padek village
in Champassak province, southern Laos.
Pawan grows rice and
other crops just 50 meters from the river where he used to fish for a
living. Other villagers have changed their jobs or switched to more
farming, so that only five of the village’s 75 families permanently rely
Pawan is one of thousands of fishermen throughout
the Mekong River basin affected by the fish decline in recent
Exact numbers are difficult to determine, but
environmental scientists and fishermen say there is anecdotal evidence
that the numbers have been steadily declining.
" Everybody says that
the fish along the Mekong are going down, there is not enough fish now,
" said David Hubbel, who works with the environmental groups, Toward
Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance (TERRA) in Thailand.
freshwater fish are the single most important source of animal protein for
people in the Mekong region, providing 80% of the protein needs for an
estimated 60 million people.
" My life depends on fishing. If
the fish in the Mekong River disappear, my life and my family’s life will
disappear, too," said a 40-year-old fisherman, Bunchay Thongnia, who
lives near the controversial Pak Moon Dam in northeastern Thailand. “Ten
years ago there were a lot of fish along the Mekong and Moon rivers, but
after the dam was built, the number of fish started going
The dam produced a bad smell, and its huge flow of
water prevented fish from migrating to their spawning grounds, he
Several fishermen along the Mekong and Moon rivers
said they could catch only enough fish to eat but not enough to
They said that before the dam was built in 1994, they
could catch up to 50 kilograms per day, but now their hauls are only 5 to
As a result of the fish crisis, some fishermen
have changed their jobs. Some have sought work in Bangkok or other
countries, while others toil in construction, factories or restaurants and
hotels. Some women work as housemaids.
kilometer-long Mekong is the largest river in Southeast Asia and the
twelfth largest in the world. From its source in the Tibetan Himalayas, it
flows through six countries – China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and
An estimated 1,245 species of fish are believed to
inhabit its waters. Fish experts believe some species of fish disappeared,
but there is no scientific evidence.
Chavalit Witayanon, a
biologist at the Department of Fisheries in Thailand, said that more than
40 species are in danger of extinction, including one of the world’s
biggest freshwater fishes, the giant catfish.
" Not so many
species of fish have disappeared, but the giant catfish now are very few.
The dam building in the upstream Mekong is the main factor, but the
over-catch from the people is another factor," said Ian Baird, director of
Global Association for People and Environment (GAPE), a non-governmental
organisation in Pakse city, Laos.
" I am very concerned. I
think we all have to work very hard. It’s very important that all people
and the governments belonging to the Mekong countries work together to
Other factors contributing to the decline in
fish are logging and deforestation, increasing population, the discharge
of agricultural and industrial chemicals, and large dams that radically
alter the flow of the river and prevent fish migration.
loss of tress has several impacts. Flooded forests provide fertile
breeding and feeding grounds for fish, while soil run-off builds up
sediment that makes it more difficult for fish to
David Hubbel, a Canadian environmental expert, said
that forest cover in northeastern Thailand has dropped from 80 percent to
about 12 percent. In Cambodia, forests around the Great Lake (Tonle Sap
Lake) are cut every day.
Hubbel warned that Cambodia could
look like northeast Thailand in 10 years unless logging stops
Increasing population had led to over-fishing. Bunchay
Thongnia said the number of new fishermen increased after the economic
crisis in 1997.
Population of the basin is expected to grow
to 100 million people by the year 2025.
In Cambodia, the
annual population grows at 2.2 percent, meaning an estimated 300,000 new
jobs need to be created each year.
"All the countries along
the Mekong River have to think about the population increase because the
resources are not enough to support everybody," Baird
Fish experts are just beginning to put together
research about the vast number of fish in the Mekong. Every year,
scientists discover an average of 5 to 10 new species, Chavalit
The fish have lived in the basin for a long time but
the scientists just found them, he told journalists
Scientists are also learning about fish migration
from local people who have intimate knowledge about the fish in their
area. They have learned that fish travel far and wide on the Mekong and
its many branches.
Fish migrate to the Mekong from the Tonle
Sap Lake and the Sesan, Srepok and Sekong rivers but also from other
rivers in Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam.
During the dry
season, fish take 25 days to migrate from the Great Lake to the Mekong and
its tributaries, where they eat algae and vegetables. The fish return
during the rainy season.
Some fishermen are beginning to protect
fish through conservation areas. They make certain areas – such as deep
pools in the river – off-limits to fishing to give fish a safe place to
rest and spawn.
A new and emerging threat to fish is plan by
China, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar to blast rapids to make the Mekong more
navigable for larger ships.
The rapids are seen as a barrier to
trade and tourism, but they are also prime breeding grounds for certain
" Blasting these rapids means destruction of the fish house
by threatening the bio-diversity of Mekong fish. If you destroy the
rapids, you will not get it back even if you are rich man," said
Chainarong Sretthachau, Director of the Southeast Asia Rivers Network in
Thailand. " For the local people, rapids are not a problem. It provides
them food. We want the four countries to halt the project."