With millions of people in Cambodia and other countries in the Mekong River basin relying on fish as a main food source, a decline in fish can be disastrous.
“Fish is the single-most important source of protein for these people,” said Joern Kristensen, chief executive officer of the Mekong River Commission, which works with Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam to manage fisheries along the Mekong.
A million tons of fish are caught in the Mekong River basin each year and another 200,000 tons are produced with aquaculture. But without proper management, Kristensen said, millions of people could be left with less food and less income.
In an aid package announced Tuesday, the Danish government has pledged $20 million to the MRC over the next five years for preservation of Mekong fisheries. Danida—Danish International Development Assistance—has been funding MRC projects for the past nine years.
Part of the money will go to developing aquaculture projects using fish native to the Mekong. Currently, most artificially raised fish are species foreign to Southeast Asia. There is concern that foreign species will find their way into the Mekong and compete with native species. The funds will also be used to set up joint system for compiling fishery statistics in the Mekong basin. The four MRC countries currently keep separate statistics, most of which are flawed, said Jorgen Jensen, chief of the MRC’s fisheries unit.
One of the MRC’s main goals in fisheries management is ensuring that activities on one stretch of the Mekong do not spoil fish production elsewhere in the river.
The fish used to make fish sauce, for example, spawn in the Mekong near Stung Treng. The eggs then drift downriver as far as the Mekong Delta and the Tonle Sap lake to mature.
“If you spoil the spawning grounds because you think this is not an important area, then it will harm the fishery in the Tonle Sap and the Mekong Delta,” Jensen said.