With funding from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), IUCN awarded a small grant to FISHBIO – a dedicated group of fisheries monitoring and research experts, whose work concerns fish and wildlife throughout the world. FISHBIO produced an interesting and informative video documenting their wider approach, as well as ongoing and planned work, for their CEFP-supported project in Lao PDR. The objective of this project is to empower local communities to engage in conservation and management of a key biodiversity area in Lao PDR along the stretch of the Mekong River between Louangphabang and Vientiane.
The FISHBIO-implemented project focuses on two CEPF priority species; the iconic Jullien’s Golden Carp (Probarbus jullieni) and the Thicklipped Barb (Probarbus labeamajor). These species are amongst the largest freshwater fishes in Southeast Asia, and are endangered according to the IUCN Red List. Targeted, unsustainable harvesting has contributed to their significant long-term decline. Despite their international conservation status, demand for Jullien’s Carp and the Thicklipped Barb remains high in Lao PDR and its immediate neighbours. Attempts to limit or regulate the sale of these species in Lao PDR have met with little success in the past. Through the CEPF grant, FISHBIO has started building local community support for Probarbus conservation and preventing its capture during the spawning season. It is believed that through this process, unsustainable harvesting practices will be checked, and the further decline of both species can be averted.
The project proposes to establish three Fish Conservation Zones (FCZs), or “no fishing zones,” in sites located along a 13-km stretch of the mainstem Mekong River in northern Lao PDR. This area lies within the CEPF Priority Corridor of the Mekong River and its major tributaries. The foundations for this project were laid by previous biodiversity surveys and village workshops carried out by IUCN, FISHBIO and the National University of Laos, with CEPF funding. The field observations and local interviews conducted by IUCN revealed previously undocumented Probarbus spawning habitats in this area. It also became evident that communities acknowledged a recent decline in the size of Probarbus individuals, as well as a fall in populations of Probarbus and other aquatic creatures, and expressed a strong desire to better manage fish resources.
During the lifetime of this FISHBIO-implemented CEPF project, setting up of co-managed FCZs for improved protection of target species and their spawning habitats will be the first of its kind initiated along this part of the Mekong. At previously held workshops facilitated by IUCN, FISHBIO and the National University of Laos, neighboring communities agreed to work together to co-manage the FCZs and draft the related regulations. This CEPF-funded project will finalize the official approval and establishment of the three designated FCZs and help communities to implement more effective management practices for Probarbus conservation.
Over the course of the project, workshops will be held for a variety of groups; ranging from local government staff to community members, for enabling legislative measures toward Probarbus conservation, and building awareness and understanding. Village management teams will be established to better enforce the law, and visible signs will be set up at each FCZ to clearly indicate no-fishing boundaries. The ultimate goal is to develop the capacity of local communities to oversee the management of aquatic resources and enforce community regulations in relation to Probarbus conservation.
By Ria Sen