Fisheries Image

Fisheries of the Lower Mekong Basin are the largest freshwater fishery in the world......

....and critical to Southeast Asia both as a food resource and driver of economic growth.

     Annually, 1.5 to 2.5 million tons of fish are harvested from the Mekong ecosystem with a minimum estimated value of $2 billion (US). For the Tonle Sap Lake, annual fish harvests are conservatively estimated at more than 500,000 tons. These fish are the most important source of protein, calcium, and vitamin A for the more than 60 million people living in the region. The Mekong is also a global hotspot of freshwater biodiversity, with the second most diverse freshwater community, including over 1100 fish species of which more than 100 are fished commercially or for subsistence. Livelihoods for the majority of people living in the LMB are in one form or another tied to freshwaters and the surrounding floodplains.

     Despite the overwhelmingly important role freshwater ecosystems play in the region, there is little direct ecological information and many scientific questions important for biodiversity conservation and fisheries management remain unanswered. Ongoing and proposed development within the LMB poses substantial but unquantified threats to the ecosystem, including its capacity to support endemic biodiversity and the rich assortment of ecosystem services it provides to people of the region.

     Two basic yet critical unanswered questions are:
1) What are the unique ecological processes that support endemic biodiversity and this unusually large and productive fishery?
2) How sensitive are these processes to ongoing and wide-spread environmental change?

     In order to determine sustainable levels of fisheries harvest, the potential impacts of proposed hydroelectric dams on biodiversity, and how management actions such as no-take reserves will influence fisheries, it is first necessary to establish the suite of ecological conditions (resource flows) that support ecosystem and fish productivity. Such scientific information illuminates policy options and their associated trade-offs, and without it, policy-makers have a substantially limited set of tools to work with in developing and assessing management strategies.

     For a more detailed look at the basis of the Tonle Sap fisheries, read the Related Story on Resource Flows.