The Lower Mekong Basin is home to the world’s single largest inland fishery, with an annual production of about four million tonnes of fish and other aquatic products. Fisheries therefore not only provide for local peoples’ lives and livelihoods, but also greatly contribute to the social and economic development of the basin’s population.
Despite its importance, Mekong fisheries are increasingly under threat from river basin developments due to habitat loss, barriers to fish migration and demands of an ever-increasing regional and global market for fish and fisheries products.
During the strategic period 2011-2015, the MRC Fisheries Programme worked to support Mekong fisheries stakeholders, from governments to local communities, to make effective and sustainable use of the basin’s fisheries resources that would alleviate poverty while protecting the environment.
The programme addressed the sustainable management and development of fisheries for poverty alleviation by focusing on three strategies: delivering knowledge and fostering understanding of key issues affecting fisheries in the region; contributing to improved policies and institutions for better fisheries management and development; and improving fisheries management skills and capacities in government agencies and fisher communities.
With its newsletter, brochures and videos, many of them in the four riparian languages, the Fisheries Programme kept the general public updated on what is happening in fisheries in the region. It also provided advice on the key issues and threats through in-depth scientific studies and technical reports directed at a specialised audience of fisheries and water managers, scientists and policy-makers.
The programme fostered regional dialogue and the exchange of information and experience by diverse fisheries stakeholders through regular events, such as advisory meetings and technical symposia, which promote the use of scientific fisheries information in making well-founded decisions and implementing realistic plans.
The production and dissemination of scientific and technical information is only justified when it leads to improvements of Mekong fisheries on the ground. This is not a short-term process. For more than a decade the Fisheries Programme campaigned for the acceptance of the importance of Mekong fisheries by governments and people.
It succeeded in having fisheries concerns taken up in policies on agriculture, nutrition, and natural resource management. A key issue is the promotion of fisher participation in agencies’ judgments and decisions. This approach is known as fisheries co-management and is now implemented in all basin countries.
The Mekong fisheries are too large and too diverse for governments to manage effectively. Fisheries management needs to be location-specific and based on traditional knowledge held by members of the fisher community. However, in these fast-changing times, local wisdom has to be strengthened by expert advice.
Therefore, the MRC fostered the ability of government scientists to support user communities in fisheries management activities, and also established fisher groups and organisations that were trained to plan and implement sustainable fisheries management.
The Mekong fisheries resources, and important elements for their existence, such as key habitats and flooding patterns, are an interconnected system throughout the entire basin. Many Mekong fish species are migratory, and some cross national boundaries when moving from nursing and feeding to spawning grounds over their life cycle. Because of the basin-wide nature of the fisheries resources, their management and sustainable utilisation will also have to be basin-wide.
The MRC addresses this on two levels: by developing a basin-wide transboundary fisheries management strategy aiming at strengthening close cooperation amongst national fisheries agencies; and by initiating cross-border fisheries management activities towards harmonisation of fishing regulations between neighbouring provinces in separate countries.