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Fish species in troubled water

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Fishermen collect fish that were scooped up by ‘dai’ or stationary bag nets along Tonle Sap river. Around 30 tonnes of fish are caught every hour during peak migration period. chhut chheana

Fish species in troubled water

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) organised a workshop in the capital on Tuesday, bringing in a number of experts to identify high-priority data needed to tackle the issue of fish migration in the Mekong Basin.

USAID Cambodia food security and environment director Sang Lee said during the workshop that migratory fish are of particular importance to food security and livelihood in Cambodia, which has one of the highest rates of fish consumption in the world.

Referring to the uniqueness of the Mekong river system, she said: “[The Mekong] is one of the most diverse rivers in the world in terms of fish species.

“It is home to more giant fish species than any other river on Earth, and all of these giant fish species can be found in Cambodia.”

Lee stressed the importance of comprehensive discussion on the management of migratory fish through the workshop.

She said: “Migratory fish that travel great distances are particularly vulnerable to the multiple threats they may encounter along their migration routes, from development and overfishing to habitat loss and climate change."

“Many migratory fish species have greatly declined in size and number over the last few decades, with a few on the verge of extinction.”

Hosted under the theme Sharing Vision for Managing and Conservation Migratory Fishes Species in Cambodia, the workshop is expected to induce a strategic approach to assist the government, especially the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, to achieve the goals within its strategic fishery planning framework and eventually the national strategic development plan.

A similar sentiment was addressed by the ministry’s fishery administration director-general Eng Cheasan during the event.

“To achieve sustainable fish biodiversity, we need a strategic, science-based approach to maintain a strong and robust seasonal flood pulse,” he said.

Cheasan said almost 900 species of fish have been recorded in the Mekong River Basin, among which 165 are migratory.

He added that at least 37 per cent of the river’s biomass is made up of migratory fish, projecting 800,000 tonnes of fish per year.

Moreover, he claimed, approximately 30 tonnes of fish are caught on the stationary bag nets set up along the Tonle Sap river every hour during the peak migration period, which starts in late September or early October,

Also present in the event, Dr Herman Wannigen, representative of the World Fish Migration Foundation, said the Mekong river is like the highway for fish, noting that fish, river and people are connected. Consequently, he said, “improving connectivity for fish is highly important.

Meanwhile, Dr So Nam from the Mekong River Commission stressed that the drier climate will exacerbate the ecosystem in the Tonle Sap in the future.

Nam predicted that in 2020, the Lower Mekong Basin will see its fish biomass reduced by 25 per cent, equal to 600,000 tonnes in losses or at $2.7 billion. In 2040, the loss will stretch to 39 per cent, equal to 900,000 tonnes or at $4.3 billion.

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