Better collaboration needed for Mekong transboundary fish trade

Representatives from IUCN Lao PDR, researchers from LARReC, IFREDI as well as representatives from fisheries departments of Cambodia and Lao PDR gathered in Pakse from the 11 to the 13 of September 2013 to discuss the final findings and policy recommendations of the IUCN led study “Trans-boundary Fish Trade in the Lower Mekong Basin: Impacts on Fisheries and Rural Employment in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Thailand” supported by the Sumernet.

Local fish market by the Mekong river in Cambodia Photo: IUCN Lao PDR

This three-country research project investigated the fish trade along one of three major transboundary routes in the region—between Stung Treng, Cambodia; Champassak, Lao PDR; and Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand. This research estimates the fish trade from Cambodia to Lao PDR to be 530 tonnes per year, a trade that was previously estimated to be only 87 tonnes per year by LARReC (Phonvisay and Bush) in 2001.

The city of Vientiane is now driving the trade due to an increased demand and better access by road from Pakse whereas the trade to Thailand seems to have virtually ceased.

The transboundary trade of fish between Lao PDR, Cambodia and Thailand directly generates substantial employment for fishers, traders, and exporters. Over 20,000 people are directly employed in the fish trade along the Stung Treng to Lao PDR route alone, and fishers rely on the sale of fish for a substantial portion of their household income—23%, 70%, and 50-100% for fishers in the Cambodian, Lao, and Thai study areas, respectively. For traders and exporters, the fish trade makes up an even greater portion of household income. It also indirectly supports truck drivers, ice sellers, fishing gear makers and others.

Most people who work in the fish trade are economically disadvantaged rural villagers with limited alternative employment options.

This being the smallest of the three major trade routes (the other two exporting fish from Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia to Thailand), the thousands of people identified in this study provide a representative sample of the many rural people living in these countries who stand to lose their livelihoods if a decrease in fish stocks occurs.

The results indicated that vital fish stocks are threatened by destructive fishing methods, pollution from unregulated chemical use, rising demand, and development in the region.

IUCN research shows that these resources, and the livelihoods of the people who depend on them, could be maintained through a stronger enforcement of country-level fishery laws; a greater protection, and expansion, of existing fish conservation zones; and increased transboundary communication and cooperation on trade regulation.

In addition to the one day workshop in Pakse, the field visits were made to key location for the regional fish trade in Ban Veungkham and Nakassang, a trade point for fishermen from Cambodia and the main fish landing site in Lao PDR for Mekong fish. Further discussion with local stakeholders, fishermen, traders and exporters allowed the team to cross check and confirm the information gathered during the study.

The main agreements reached by the participants from the workshop were:

  • To work on a draft for a transboundary agreement about the fish trade between Cambodia and Lao PDR to make sure that the activity is sustainable and regulated;
  • To support the Lao government in drafting an implementation decree for the Lao fishery law;
  • To create a regional task force to go further into the study and create a link between the technical/field level and the policy makers.
  • To provide awareness about the importance of the fish trade for employment in the region for this to be taken into account in development projects.

The results of these discussions will be taken forward by IUCN to build concrete continuation to this study. The workshop report as well as a book chapter summarizing the findings of the study will be published soon.

LARReC - Living Aquatic Resources Research Center of Lao PDR
IFReDI - Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute of Cambodia

Work area: 
Project and Initiatives: 
Mekong Dialogues
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