A fish passage has been installed at Kbal Hong Dam in the Pursat River to aid the migration of 100 fish species, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) said on Wednesday.
In a statement, the MRC said the livelihoods of many fishing villages have been hit due to river structures at Kbal Hong Dam.
People in Dun Ei village have been making a living through fishing along the Pursat River for generations, but in recent years river structures, such as dams and dykes, have been preventing fish from migrating upstream to their breeding grounds.
“For most of the year, fish have become scarce along the Pursat River, forcing villagers to leave their homes in search of work. Those left behind face difficult lives and an uncertain future,” the MRC said.
To address the problem, the MRC and the government partnered with the US Department of Interior and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research to install a fish passage.
The concrete ladder was constructed at Kbal Hong Dam in the Pursat River, a main tributary of Tonle Sap Lake, Southeast Asia’s largest lake, to provide a route for more than 100 fish species to swim past the four-metre-high barrier, reopening around 100km of the river.
Horm Sovon, a 49-year-old fisherman in Dun Ei village, said: “Before, I could only catch fish three months per year. Now I am catching less fish than before, but there are fish to catch every day.
“I have a stable income now, and I am happy that other villagers both upstream and downstream are also able to catch fish.”
The MRC said the situation faced by the villagers in Dun Ei is typical of a wider problem affecting communities across the Mekong River Basin.
In the Lower Mekong Basin, fish catches are estimated at 2.3 million tonnes as the sector supports the livelihoods of more than 60 million people.
However, the fisheries sector is threatened by more and more dams, dykes, weirs, and other water structures that have been built to store water for irrigation.
“The Kbal Hong fish passage is a unique demonstration site that can be replicated elsewhere in the country or in the region,” deputy director of the Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute Tob Chann Aun said.
MRC secretariat CEO An Pich Hatda said the project highlights the importance of such work.
“This successful case implies that the construction of fish passages in the basin and some of its tributaries is essential.”
“Improving the management of fish will enhance the resilience of the entire ecosystem, benefit local economies and sustain local community livelihoods,” he said.