In a significant move towards sustainable fisheries in Cambodia, the Sleng Fishway in Siem Reap’s Kralanh district, the country’s first fishway, was formally unveiled on November 1.

The event garnered the presence of the Australian ambassador to Cambodia, representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Fisheries Administration, local authorities and community members.

Fishways, also referred to as a fish ladder or fish pass, are specialised structures constructed in proximity to dams, weirs and other river and stream barriers to assist fish in their upstream migration. They consist of a sequence of steps, pools and other features that enable fish to swim against the current, surmounting the barriers to reach their spawning areas.

These structures are meticulously crafted to enhance fish conservation and maintain robust fish populations by aiding in circumventing natural migratory obstacles. This, in turn, facilitates unhindered movement, granting fish access to vital resources. Ultimately, it contributes to the economy and supports those who depend on fisheries.

“The Sleng Fishway is expected to increase the fishing income of up to 5,000 families and help preserve over 100 local fish species, making it a significant step towards a more sustainable future for Cambodia’s fisheries and fishing communities,” said Australian ambassador Justin Whyatt.

Fish ladders represent a vital solution to the fisheries challenges facing the nation. Hydropower and irrigation development are integral to economic growth; however, they can also fragment waterways and disrupt fish migration.

Khun Savoeun, an agriculture ministry representative, said that their experts, supported by Australia, are pioneering the development of fish passage techniques throughout the Mekong region.

“Such efforts are pivotal in safeguarding our fish resources and bolstering the Kingdom’s food security and rural health. Our focus remains on harnessing scientific solutions to uphold our river ecosystems,” said Savoeun.

The collaborative efforts and funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) have brought this project to fruition. In light of the nation’s focus on hydropower and irrigation for its economic progress, such interventions hold significant importance.

“Since 2006, ACIAR has been funding research to protect Mekong fish stocks, connecting leading Australian scientists to their counterparts in Cambodia to tackle the challenges of converging food and energy security,” said Wendy Umberger, ACIAR CEO.

“The innovations developed through these research partnerships have greatly benefitted rural communities who depend on fish for their health and wellbeing, and I’m pleased to see this technology further scaled out to benefit communities in Siem Reap,” added Umberger.

The establishment of the Sleng Fishway is the outcome of collaborative efforts involving ACIAR, DFAT, Charles Sturt University in Australia, Cambodian state entities and regional authorities in Siem Reap.

The fish ladder was developed with extensive community involvement during both the design and construction phases. Valuable input from local stakeholders influenced the final design.

This project, a component of the FishTech initiative funded by ACIAR and DFAT, is one of several such projects aimed at facilitating fish migration across the Lower Mekong region.

Following its completion, assessments will be conducted to gauge its impact on local fish and communities, providing guidance for future endeavours in both Cambodia and Laos.