Thai River-Widening Project Could Hurt Mekong Fisheries

Thailand’s Cabinet approved a plan Tuesday to blast stretches of the Mekong river in order to im­prove navigation for shipping—an action that could negatively affect the fish population and the flow of the river downstream in Cambo­dia and Viet­nam, according to a report in the Bangkok newspaper The Nation.

If fully implemented, the four-nation project would open up shipping routes between southern China and river ports in Thailand, Burma and Laos by removing reefs and rocks, and widening and deepening the river channel.

Laos has yet to fully approve the project, said Joern Kris­t­en­sen, chief executive officer of the Mekong River Commission.

Changing the river upstream could ruin the spawning grounds of some species of fish that live in Cambodia and Vietnam, but migrate upriver to lay their eggs, Kristensen said. Increased shipping traffic could also decrease the river’s water quality, he said.

Reduced river flow could also affect Cambodia’s fish populations and the ability of farmers to grow rice by reducing the flood plains along the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers, according to one Phnom Penh fisheries expert.

Vietnam and Cambodia have not been consulted on the project, according to The Nation.

China would fund the $4.5 million project, which includes blasting 11 rapids along a 331-km stretch of the river from China to the Thai-Lao border, according to The Nation.

China has provided much of the funding, and stands to benefit the most from the project, Kristensen said. The four nations have done an environmental impact assessment, “according to Chinese standards,” Kristensen said.

The MRC is hoping to do its own review of China’s assessment, using independent experts, he said. The Phnom Penh-based MRC was formed in 1995 to manage the Mekong river basin and its resources with the cooperation of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. China and Burma so far have refused to join the organization.


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