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

  • Government denies claims former Thai PM Yingluck issued Cambodian passport

    Government officials on Thursday denied claims that a Cambodian passport was issued to former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who reportedly used it to register a company in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong-based English language South China Morning Post (SCMP) on Wednesday reported Hong Kong

  • Diplomatic passports issued to foreigners to be annulled

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation will move to annul diplomatic passports issued to those not born in Cambodia. Analysts say the move may be in relation to reports that former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra used a Cambodian passport to register as

  • Hun Sen warns Irish MP of EBA ‘mistake’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday told former Irish premier Enda Kenny, still a member of the EU nation’s parliament, that the 28-nation bloc should not make a “third mistake” regarding Cambodia by using the preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement to “take 16 million

  • The hairy little heroes saving many lives in rural Cambodia

    IN RURAL Siem Reap province, rats dare to tread where no person will, as these hairy little heroes place their lives on the line each day for the good of the local community. The rodents are the most important members of a special team, leading