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Jeanineke Dahl Kristensen, Manager, Fisheries Programme


The food security of 60 million people living in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) is based on rice and fish. Rice is the main supplier of energy and plant protein in the diet and fish supplies a range of important micronutrients and animal protein. Fish and other aquatic animal products can justifiably be called "the milk of South East Asia". There are no immediate replacements for these two important food components, on which many South East Asian societies have developed. Any substantial and irreversible damage to the ecosystems in the region may lead to severe shortages in food production.

The inland fishery resources of the LMB are among the most productive in the world and are of immense importance to the people in the region. The annual flooding of the Mekong Basin drives the productivity. The rise and fall of the Mekong also creates the variety of habitats that shelter an incredibly diverse fish fauna. More than 1,200 fish species live in the Mekong and its tributaries, making it one of the most species-rich rivers in the world.

Fish in the Mekong Basin is not just a local resource, but also a trans-boundary resource, which during its life cycle travels hundred of kilometres, from downstream feeding habitats to upstream refuge habitats or spawning areas.

Care is needed if the aquatic resources and biodiversity of the Mekong for future generations are to be maintained. The long-term sustainability of the living aquatic resources of the LMB as an important source of food, income and employment will require extensive knowledge of the resources and of key factors controlling recruitment and survival, such as life history, habitat and migration route requirements, part of the work the MRC Fisheries Programme started in 1993. It will also require that the living aquatic resources are taken into account in national and regional planning, especially in Government where decisions are made on alternative uses of water resources.

Policy aspects

The Fisheries Programme forms one of five sector programmes within the intergovernmental body Mekong River Commission. In November 2002, the Fisheries Programme revised its development objective to: "Coordinated and sustainable development, utilisation, management and conservation of the fisheries of the Mekong Basin." The objective has been formulated together with line agencies in the four riparian countries and derives from the Mekong River Commission mission: "to promote and coordinate sustainable management and development of water related resources for the four countries' mutual benefit and the people's well being by implementing strategic programmes and activities and providing scientific information and policy advice".

The target groups for the Fisheries Programme are derived from the MRC vision of "an economically prosperous, socially just and environmentally sound Mekong River Basin". The Fisheries Programme provides information directly to the basin development planners and decision makers and indirectly by capacity building within the line agencies and National Mekong Committees. The ultimate target group is the low-income resource users in the Basin that are dependent on fisheries for their livelihoods. The purpose of the Programme expressed in the development objective is to enhance the livelihoods of the ultimate target group.


Methods of work

In recognition of the fact that it is impossible to plan for all the eventualities that may arise over a long period, the Fisheries Programme has a five-year rolling plan, which is adjusted annually. This strategy ensures that the Fisheries Programme is flexible, adapting from experience gained under the implementation and can respond to changes in the external environment. In particular, this means that the Fisheries Programme will be responsive to the fisheries development needs of the MRC member countries and will continually review funding possibilities for Programme activities.

The Fisheries Programme works primarily through the relevant line agency in each country, but components are never national. Experience is shared between countries by regular meetings on the component level as well as the Programme level. Fisheries Programme activities incorporate relevant aspects of upgrading the capacity of the line agencies and the MRC to plan and manage the Fisheries Programmes.

Gender equity is a cross-cutting issue for the Programme in order to ensure that there is a reasonable participation of both men and women in Programme implementation and that there is a fair distribution of benefits from development activities.

The MRC Fisheries Programme is very keen to collaborate with all other organizations working in the fisheries sector in the Mekong Basin. The fisheries in the region are of immense economic and nutritional importance and the resources are under pressure from varied sources. Consequently, the management and development needs of the sector are immediate and important. In this context, it is apparent that coordination of activities across governments, research, development and management institutions, donor agencies and NGOs is essential to ensure the best use of the limited resources available.

Areas of work

The fisheries sector may be divided into aquaculture and capture fisheries/aquatic animals. However, because the two types of fisheries is interlinked in the Lower Mekong Basin, the sector interact with other sectors and the outcome of the sector is essential for people's livelihoods, the MRC Fisheries Programme focuses on four interlinked thematic areas:

1. Fisheries Ecology and Impact Assessment

2. Enhancing Livelihoods

3. Fisheries Management

4. Communication

Fisheries ecology and impact assessment

The Fisheries Programme has over the past seven to eight years collected information on habitat and life cycle requirements, especially migration patterns, of fish species in the LMB by using novel methods e.g. Local Ecological Knowledge surveys and monitoring larval drift. However, more information is needed on life histories, key environmental variables (day length, temperature, flow regime) distribution of species and stocks, the major patterns of fish migration and habitat use during their life cycle and the energetic basis of productivity and fish yields per habitat type.

Detailed information is also needed on the other elements of the fishery, which include the fishers, traders, retailers and suppliers and the social and market systems in which they operate. Such information on key features of the fishery is fundamental to sound management, environmental impact assessment and impact mitigation.

Biological and socio-economic data will be used in models (e.g. impact assessments, environmental flows, water resource utilisation and basin development plans), which eventually will guide management and development decisions.

In addition to information on the fishery, sustainable development requires effective fisheries focused Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) which adequately incorporate mitigation, environmental monitoring and management in the planning and operation of water management activities. The EIA process is ineffective at present to achieve favourable outcomes for fisheries because fisheries agency staff lack the proper channels and contacts for effective engagement in the process and because agencies in the other sectors whose activities impact the fishery (e.g. hydroelectricity, flood control, irrigation) lack awareness of fisheries issues and do not engage effectively with fisheries professionals. Several Fisheries Programme activities will seek to improve EIA processes for fisheries in the Mekong Basin.

Enhancing livelihoods

Fisheries play a fundamental role in sustaining the livelihoods of rural populations and alleviating poverty in the Mekong Basin. They provide food security and opportunities for diverse, flexible and dynamic forms of income generation and an important buffer to economic and social shocks affecting poor households.

The livelihoods approach makes it imperative to look at the context and relationships and at policies and institutions. Poverty alleviation requires poor people gaining access to and control over their resource base - not merely their natural resource base but also over political resources and decision- and policy-making processes, thereby enhancing their rights and capabilities in expressing and organising themselves to represent their interests - giving them a voice. Learning effectively from each other's experience is a valuable tool here. Two-way learning and an open transparent approach are essential.

Fisheries management

Fisheries management takes place at various levels and in various forms. All MRC member countries now recognise the importance of promoting participatory management practices at the community level. This can be the co-management techniques developed by the Fisheries Programme during the past seven years, or variations of those techniques adapted to fit particular circumstances in each country and particular situations. There is an opportunity to extend the experiences gained in specific habitats to wider applications for fisheries management in the Basin.

There has not yet been developed approaches or implementation experiments for participatory natural resource management on a large scale that are commensurate with the magnitude of the biological production system or environmental interactions in the Basin. Participatory management on the scale of sub-catchments or major river/floodplain areas, as well as the community level, will be a focus area for the MRC Fisheries Programme in the future.

National and regional government levels are the key decision-making areas in fisheries management. The Fisheries Programme has always worked closely with these levels for implementation of the Programme. Future emphasis will be on improved communication flow of information that can be used in national and trans-boundary decision-making.


The overall goal of Fisheries Programme communication activities is to inform all stakeholders of the importance of fisheries to the livelihoods of people of the Mekong River Basin, with a view to ensuring political and community support for the maintenance of healthy rivers and fisheries in the Mekong. Such information must be communicated in easily understood language and a variety of formats.

In order to achieve its goals, the MRC Fisheries Programme will have a strategy for communication of adequate fisheries information, generated both within and outside the Programme, to diverse audiences, including Member Governments and natural resource managers.

Communication processes within the Programme integrates with the MRC Communication Strategy, thereby ensuring the information flows to a broad audience within the Basin. Communication processes and milestones are formally built into all components of the Programme.

Communication processes involved include technical and general publications, films, interactive CDs, storage of databases within the MRC, advocacy and representation of fisheries interests, fisheries symposiums within the Mekong Basin and networking with other fisheries and natural resource agencies in the region. Networking and interaction with target audiences will allow for continual appraisal of the requirements for information, as well evaluation of the effectiveness of communication practices.

These four thematic areas of work cover the key activities needed to work towards the achievement of the development and immediate objectives.

Immediate objective and outputs

The Immediate Objective of the Fisheries Programme is: 'Relevant fisheries information generated, communicated and used by resource users, riparian governments and the MRC in management planning and implementation'.

The Fisheries Programme is about information relevant for fisheries development, utilisation, management and conservation in the Mekong River Basin. Relevant information is that identified as being necessary for an understanding of the biology, ecology, economics and social aspects of fisheries and for the planning and management of fisheries activities. The Fisheries Programme will therefore be concerned with generation, communication and use of information, as expressed in the following Outputs:

1. Relevant information on fisheries biology, ecology and socio-economics generated

2. Relevant fisheries information communicated to management agencies and resource users

3. Use of relevant information facilitated

The Fisheries Programme facilitates use of the information by providing it in user-friendly formats and advising the users on possible strategies for the utilisation of information. To ensure that the information is widely spread to other sectors, information on fisheries will also be disseminated through other MRC publications.

Current and planned components of the fisheries programme

Four components operating are:

Component ideas proposed for funding:

Need for external support

The national line agencies and related fisheries institutions in the MRC member countries already have the institutional structures necessary for fisheries development in the Basin. However, because of constraints in the national economies of most member countries, they do not have sufficient resources to implement major development programmes with trans-boundary significance. The Mekong River Commission, being an organization formed by the four governments, is well suited to facilitate such programmes, but needs external funding to do so. The MRC member countries are providing an increasing share of MRC expenses, but it will require many years of economic growth before they are able to meet all the operational costs.

Importance of the LMB Fishery, Effects of Water Management on Fisheries, Role of the MRC and Components of the New Programme (2003-2010)

The Lower Mekong Basin

Fish production estimates

Estimation methods include: consumption studies (above figures), wetland productivity (150 kg/ha/yr) and landing surveys.

How large is the fishery in the LMB?

Fish consumption in LMB countries


Consumption Per Person (kg)

Total Consumption (tonnes)


47 (10-89)

508 000


26 (17-36)

133 000


35 (20-41)

795 000

Viet Nam

33 (15-60)

597 000



2 033 000

Importance of fish in the Cambodian diet



Vitamin A




511.0 g

40.0 g

0.0 RE

6.1 mg

51.0 mg


121.0 g

15.0 g

110.0 RE

2.7 mg

282.0 mg


53.0 g

6.0 g

21.0 RE

0.9 mg

4.0 mg


111.0 g

1.0 g

31.0 RE

0.7 mg

19.0 mg


796.0 g

62.0 g

162.0 RE

10.4 mg

357.0 mg

Note: The table shows intake of different food groups energy in a rice surplus area of Cambodia.

Effects of water management on fisheries: problems for fisheries

Mitigation methods

· Downstream effects:

Changed water intake to turbines

· In-reservoir:

Bubbling systems, improved management of water level etc.

· Passing the dam:


Fishway capacity and the requirement for the Tonle Sap river

· Vertical slot:

7 meters, 5 000 fish per 24 hours

· Fish lift:

15 meters, 3 200 fish per 24 hours

· Tonle Sap River:

50 000 fish per minute

The role of the Mekong River Commission

The 1995 Agreement states, MRC's role is to promote "Cooperation in all fields of sustainable development, utilisation, management and conservation of the water and related resources of the Basin." This should contribute to sustainable and balanced development, while preserving the environmental integrity of the Basin.

Working with fisheries agencies (TAB)

[The presenter went on to describe the organizational structure of the MRC including the roles of the Council, Joint Committee, National Mekong Committees (NMCs), Donor Consultative Group, TAB and the Mekong River Commission Secretariat.]

Components of the new programme (2003-2010)

Features of the new programme

Thematic areas

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