Vientiane, Lao PDR, 23rd Dec 2016
Vientiane, Lao PDR, 23rd December 2016 - Officials from the National Mekong Committees and fisheries authorities of Cambodia and Lao PDR reaffirmed their commitment to enhancing transboundary cooperation for improved fisheries management in the bordering provinces of the two countries.
The reaffirmation came during an exchange visit in early December to the Mekong and Sekong rivers, connecting Champasak and Attapeu provinces of Lao PDR with Stung Treng and Kratie provinces of Cambodia.
“We have the same problems and concerns in managing our fisheries resources that are being threatened by human activities and infrastructure development,” said Deputy Secretary General of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee Watt Botkosal. “Promoting closer cooperation is crucial for the two countries to effectively address those issues.”
During the first joint field trip, organized under the MRC’s Mekong and Sekong Rivers Fisheries Management Project, the two counterparts visited a fish conservation zone in Attapeu and a fisheries community in Stung Treng where they learnt from each other on how communities manage their fisheries resources. They also verified transboundary fisheries issues in the Mekong and Sekong rivers for a joint comprehensive report as a basis of establishing a joint management plan.
Bounthong Saphakdy, Deputy Director General of the Department of Livestock and Fisheries under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Lao PDR, is optimistic about future cooperation with Cambodia. He believes it will promote regular dialogue and sharing of information necessary for fisheries resources management.
Originating in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, the Sekong River flows through Lao PDR and then enters Cambodia to join the mighty Mekong River. It is one of the largest Mekong tributaries, providing corridors for fish movement linking spawning habitats in the upstream with downstream feeding habitats.
The two rivers form a transboundary life-source to millions of Cambodian and Laotian people who rely heavily on the watershed for subsistence.
Yet, the health of local communities and the rivers’ ecosystems in both countries are being threatened by increasing fishing efforts, illegal fishing activities, deterioration of watershed, an increase of flash floods and severe drought, and infrastructure development, including hydropower schemes.
Officials from both countries said these problems cannot be solved effectively by countries individually and require regional collaboration.
The MRC’s Mekong and Sekong fisheries project is assisting the governments of Cambodia and Lao PDR to improve management of inland fisheries and conserve biodiversity of related ecosystems and species in the Mekong and Sekong rivers through cross-border cooperation, discussion and joint activities.
It is one of the five bilateral projects funded by the World Bank under the MRC’s Integrated Water Resources Management Project, which facilitates transboundary dialogue to promote cooperation for better water resources management.
“The project sets the stage for action that brings Cambodia and Lao PDR to work together for their natural resources. We hope that the collective action and broad cooperation will optimize management of the fisheries resources,” said MRC’s Director of Planning Division An Pich Hatda.
Through this project, fisheries specialists from the two countries have identified significant issues that they can jointly address, including unsustainable fishing practices, lack of enforcement of fisheries regulations, and habitat degradation due to excessive land use. They have also selected five whitefish species that are vulnerable to extinction as monitoring target.
In addition, the two teams have agreed to adopt the MRC’s fish monitoring procedures to monitor fishers’ catch of whitefish species in the Mekong and Sekong rivers. They will commence the monitoring activities and train selected fishermen on documentation of fishing practices, fishing gear profiles and mapping monitoring habitats.
Another milestone they have agreed on is setting up a joint fisheries management body by the end of the project in 2018.
At a joint workshop in Stung Treng province, organized in conjunction with the exchange visit, officials from Cambodia and Lao PDR agreed to increase efforts to establish the joint management body.
The two teams said they will discuss the structure of the joint body and financial issues, and identify stakeholders’ needs that are critical for a successful design and implementation of the joint management body and action plan.
“The joint body will enhance effectiveness in managing our fisheries resources, so we will make every effort to move the plan forward and find ways to make it sustainable,” said Chheng Phen, Acting Director of Cambodia’s Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute of the Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
National Coordinator of the Lao National Mekong Committee Viengsay Sophachan agreed.
“We will continue our efforts to ensure that our bilateral cooperation complements one another for sustainable fisheries resources that can support people’s livelihood while conserving nature,” he said.