Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Tonle Sap Lake fisheries a concern for dam project

Tonle Sap Lake fisheries a concern for dam project

A part of the Mekong River where the proposed Don Sahong dam project would be constructed in southern Laos
A part of the Mekong River where the proposed Don Sahong dam project would be constructed in southern Laos. RIVERS INTERNATIONAL

Tonle Sap Lake fisheries a concern for dam project

Already under attack by overfishing, pollution and deforestation, Tonle Sap Lake fisheries face an even bigger threat in the form of hydropower dams, according to experts.

Laos’ planned Don Sahong Hydropower Project in particular has environmentalists fearing an emptier, less bio-diverse lake, and a nation pitched into protein shortages.

“[The Don Sahong] is of particular concern because it will obstruct the only fish migration channel available at Khone Falls in the dry season,” said Eric Baran, director of the World Fish Centre’s Greater Mekong Office.

At least 32 fish species are known to migrate between the Tonle Sap Lake and the Upper Mekong through the Khone Falls, just north of the Laos-Cambodian Border where the Don Sahong would be built, according to fish experts.

“I view it like a declaration of war by Laos on Cambodia and Vietnam,” said ecologist Taber Hand. “The impact of reducing fisheries and sediment flow is more subtle than most acts of war but it has the same or greater . . . effect on national security.”

Millions of people rely on fish from Cambodia’s great lake as a source of income and food security. Scientists estimate between 60-70 per cent of the nation’s fish catches come from the lake, providing Cambodian’s main source of protein and omega-3 fats.

“One hundred per cent of the Cambodian population eats fish. We have no alternatives to completely replace fish as a source of protein right now,” said Meach Mean, director of the 3S Rivers Protection Network.

Dam opponents have gone so far as to say deleterious impacts on Tonle Sap Lake fisheries would mean several steps backwards in alleviating the nation’s poverty and malnutrition rates.

“No dams should be built until Cambodian’s food security can be guaranteed,” said Tek Vannara, executive director of NGO Forum.

But Don Sahong proponents maintain that if alternative fish migration routes fail, the project could be halted.

“The Don Sahong dam is a very expensive project. I don’t believe for a minute that the dam would be stopped after such an investment if it turned out that impacts on fish migrations could not be mitigated appropriately,” said Ian Baird, a professor and fisheries expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

MOST VIEWED

  • Sihanoukville to begin road project

    The government will spend $200 million to improve Sihanoukville’s infrastructure. The eight-month project will involve the rebuilding of 34 streets with a total of more than 84km. Pal Chandara, the secretary of state and spokesman for the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, told The Post

  • Artefact is seized from American auctioneers

    Cambodian and US archaeologists on Thursday discussed the formalities and procedures of returning to Cambodia an artefact which was recently seized by US Homeland Security Investigators (HSI) from an auction house in San Francisco. On Monday, the HSI said US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),

  • Bodhisattva statue unearthed

    The Apsara National Authority technical team uncovered a sandstone statue of a Bodhisattva while carrying out excavation work at the east entrance of the Ta Nei temple on October 8. The team was trying to find the temple’s roof stone, which had fallen into a

  • World Bank: Challenges facing the Kingdom

    Cambodia’s economy currently faces challenges including credit growth in the construction and real estate sectors, rising indebtedness and the possible withdrawal of the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement, said the World Bank Group’s latest forecast report on the Asia-Pacific economies. The