Fisherman Pe Men with a catch from the Mekong at Steung Treng.
MEKONG River fishermen in Steung Treng province are reporting exponential increases
in fish catches during the October 2000- May 2001 upper river fishing season.
A dozen fishermen consulted by the Post on June 5 were unanimous in their assertion
that fish catches for this season have been ten to fifteen times larger than those
of last season.
"This year I'm catching many more fish than last year, said Pe Men, an ethnic
Lao resident of Leu village in Strung Treng's Thalaboriwat district.
Men's appraisal of the size of the season's fishing catch was echoed by fellow Leu
villager Kham Lean, who credited a halt in illegal fishing methods over the past
year to the resurgence in the Mekong's fish population.
"Over the past two years thousands of grenades exploded in the [river] water
each month along with poison and electrical fishing," Lean said. "But this
year illegal activities seem to have stopped and the fish have survived and produced
a lot of baby fish."
Villagers in Steung Treng's O'Svay commune report similar increases in fish catches,
estimating that fishermen have made daily hauls of 100-150 kilograms of fish daily
compared to a mere ten kilos in 1999-2000.
Kong Vuthy, head of the O'Svay community fisheries project, says the establishment
of the project at the beginning of 2000 has had a dramatic impact on reducing illegal
fishing of all kinds.
In co-operation with the upper Mekong's Culture and Environment Preservation Association
(CEPA), Vuthy and his neighbors have also initiated efforts to raise awareness of
the need to protect endangered Mekong fish species such as the Mekong dolphin and
the Mekong giant cat fish by raising educational signboards along strategic points
of the river and in area fishing villages.
"We hope [the education campaign] will provide awareness to villagers to protect
fish species and prevent illegal fishing," said Sous Sivutha, head of CEPA's
Steung Treng office.