The lives of Northern Lao PDR communities are built around fish as they are a valuable source of food and income. Decline in fisheries productivity and fish diversity would lead to economic and health problems for people in this region.
To prevent this from happening, FISHBIO, a fisheries and environmental consulting company based in the United States and Lao PDR, developed a fish conservation project called ‘Establishing co-managed Fish Conservation Zones (FCZs) to help communities protect endangered Probarbus fish in the mainstream Mekong River of northern Lao PDR’. The project aims to support local communities in their decision to protect important spawning areas for endangered fish species. This in turn can help increase the catch of non-protected species, thereby improving livelihoods. The project, funded by IUCN and the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund (CEPF), builds on biodiversity surveys and village workshops previously conducted by IUCN with funding from CEPF.
CEPF provides grants to civil society organizations to help protect biodiversity hotspots - the planet’s most biologically rich but heavily threatened regions. In 2013, IUCN and CEPF launched a USD10.4 million, five-year investment for the conservation of globally important biodiversity in the ‘Indo-Burma Hotspot’ comprising Viet Nam, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and parts of southern China. IUCN is leading CEPF’s Regional Implementation Team (RIT) in the Indo-Burma hotspot, working together with Myanmar Environment Rehabilitation-conservation Network (MERN) in Myanmar, and Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden (KFBG) in China.
“FISHBIO’s FCZ initiative not only conserves aquatic biodiversity but also supports community food security, household income and sustainable livelihoods,” said Mr Adam Starr, Country Manager for IUCN Lao PDR. “We believe this project will be of great benefit to communities and I am very pleased to see such a positive response from local people who have been engaged with the project.”
FISHBIO is currently working with three villages in northern Lao PDR to establish three FCZs that encompass Probarbus spawning and refuge habitats. Two species of fish in the genus Probarbus (Jullien’s golden carp, Probarbus jullieni, and the thick-lipped barb, Probarbus labeamajor) are some of the largest freshwater fish in Southeast Asia, and are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM. FCZs are used to protect important habitats and allow fish populations to rebound.
On 11 and 12 December 2014, an FCZ enforcement team training, aimed at capacity enhancement on how to monitor and enforce conservation regulations at FCZ sites, was conducted in the Houaykhoualoung sub-district zone. A total of 29 participants, comprising representatives from the government, sub-district villages, and FCZ management committees, attended the event.
During the training, project personnel reviewed the management committee structure and discussed enforcement activities focusing on Probarbus spawning season from December-February. Group discussions were also held in each village to ensure that participants understood their village’s reporting system related to illegal fishing and penalties.
"The villagers are excited to have fish conservation zones because once management is in place, they can know how to manage the aquatic resources for sustainable fishing or sustainable conservation for their future generations," said Mr Sinsamout Ounboundisane, a fisheries biologist and the project lead at FISHBIO. "The key point is enforcement and patrolling; it’s very important. If the patrol team is very weak, the management is not a good system for the community."
Over the next few months, FISHBIO will be monitoring enforcement team activities throughout the Probarbus spawning season; facilitating coordination with district-level law enforcement; conducting a final survey to assess enforcement activities and final village interviews on local knowledge, attitudes and practices related to fisheries and fish conservation zones; and hosting a transition workshop to discuss strategies to sustain project activities with the implementing communities.
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