The planned construction of a giant hydropower project on the Mekong River in Laos will ensure the extinction of the Mekong giant catfish in Cambodia and seriously threaten several other giant fish species, according to a new report from the WWF.
The WWF’s “River of Giants” report, released publicly today, says that new hydropower dams on the Mekong will disrupt the spawning, growth and breeding of several iconic Mekong fish, including the giant catfish, the giant freshwater stingray, the dog-eating catfish and the Giant barb fish.
The WWF report singles out the planned future development of a dam in Laos’ Sayabouly province as a particular threat to the Mekong giant catfish, which can weigh up to 350 kg.
“Building the Sayabouly dam will cause the extinction of wild populations of the Mekong giant catfish,” the report says.
“As the fish is a long-distance migrant, between the Tonle Sap lake in Cambodia and the Mekong River in northern Thailand and Laos PDR, if any dam is built on the mainstream of the lower Mekong River the species will not be able to migrate to its spawning grounds.”
Dang Thuy Trang, eco-region coordinator for the WWF Greater Mekong Program, said yesterday that the report was designed to encourage governments to fully consider the environmental implications of hydropower projects on the Mekong.
“Currently, the Lower Mekong remains free-flowing, which presents a rare opportunity for the conservation of these species…. But the clock is ticking,” she said.
According a report this month from the government-controlled KPL Lao News Agency, the Sayabouly hydropower dam is expected to be operational by 2019.
Pich Dun, secretary-general of Cambodia’s Mekong River Committee, said yesterday that he had not seen any official documents about the Sayabouly dam yet, but said the government would be looking to properly analyze its development.
“We cannot prevent them from building the dam project, but we will have to look at any technical documents [provided to us],” he said.
Nao Thuok, director of the Fisheries Administration, said yesterday that he did not know how much of an impact the Laos dam would have on Cambodia’s fisheries.
“I think it may affect [Cambodian] fish, but we want it to have the smallest effect [possible],” he said.