Unusually low water levels in the Mekong River are threatening Cambodian fisheries and could significantly reduce this year’s fish catch, officials warned yesterday.
“We are very worried about fisheries,” said Nao Thuok, director of the Agriculture Ministry’s Fisheries Administration department, explaining low water levels in the Mekong, and consequently in the Tonle Sap lake, were affecting fish reproduction and migration.
Mr Thuok explained that many fish species spawn in the floodplains along the Mekong River in Kratie province and at this time of year baby fish-an estimated 200 billion of them-should be making their way down the Mekong and into the Tonle Sap. This year, however, there was no flooding of the riverbanks in Kratie and the Mekong had not carried many baby fish southward and into the Tonle Sap, he said.
“Every year, usually at the end of June, we would see baby fish flow from the Mekong into the Tonle Sap, but now it is July and we do not see any baby fish,” Mr Thuok said, adding if water levels remained low until August it would obliterate the fish reproduction cycle in Kratie.
Water levels in Kratie province were measured yesterday at 9.10 meter, down from 15.86 meter during the same time last year, he said, adding that at Chaktomuk in Phnom Penh, the Mekong was just 2.71 meter deep, compared to 5.64 meter last year.
Data from the Mekong River Commission website, which monitors daily water levels in the river, indicated levels in Kratie were lower than in 1992, considered a baseline “dry year” by the MRC.
Pich Dun, secretary-general of the Cambodia National Mekong River Committee, confirmed water levels were extremely low, adding there would be “a much smaller fish catch this year” as fish production is directly linked to water levels.
“It could be worse than 1992 because up till now the water is very low,” he said.
Mr Dun said a lack of rainfall in the whole Mekong region was causing the low water levels. He denied recent accusations from environmental activists in the region who said the drought was caused by China, which they said is hoarding water in its cascade dams on the Upper Mekong.
“I have checked rainfall data from upstream and downstream [Mekong], everywhere there’s a lack of rainfall, therefore I can conclude [low water levels] are caused by a lack of rain,” he said.
Mao Hak, director of the hydrology department of the Ministry of Water Resources, also blamed a lack of rain for the low river water levels, but added levels could still quickly rise in the next two months.
Kwan Thiya, a former chief at Kbal Taol village located on the shores of the Tonle Sap lake in Ek Phnom district, Battambang province, said none of the flooded forests and floodplains around the lake, which are fish spawning grounds, had so far been inundated.
He pointed out that this lack of flooding was hindering the fish species that live permanently in the lake.
“Now the fish have no place to lay eggs,” Mr Thiya said, adding local fishermen were already catching less fish than usual.