Opening Address by
Jeremy Bird, CEO, Mekong River Commission Secretariat
Pacific Hotel, Siem Reap, Cambodia
10-11 June 2009
H.E. Sou Phirin, Governor of Siem Reap;
H.E. Nao Thuok, Delegate of the Royal Cambodian Government, current Director General of Fisheries Administration;
H.E Pich Dun, Secretary General of CNMC,
Distinguished guests, colleagues and
I am sure I do not need to tell this audience how important fish are to the people of this part of the world. Between 50 and 80 percent of the protein on people's plates in the lower Mekong basin comes from fish caught in the river system or grown in aquaculture operations.
Fishing doesn’t just underpin food security. Many people in the river basin rely on the more than 2 billion US dollars worth fish caught per year for their livelihood.
It is fish and fishing that keeps hundreds of thousands
of Mekong residents out of poverty and hunger.
In Viet Nam especially – fishing and fish farming in the Mekong and tributaries are fast becoming one of the country’s leading export items, with tens of thousands working in the processing industry.
The last year has not been kind to many of the economies in this region. The global economic crisis continues to hit the Mekong region hard, although individual countries are affected to varying degrees.
But the expectations are that economies of the region will again witness high levels of growth. With that will come increased pressure to build hydropower schemes both for domestic consumption and export.
Although most of this activity has so far been on tributary rivers of the Mekong, there are now 11 hydropower dams proposed for development on the mainstream of the river in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Thailand. Thailand and Cambodia are also considering the potential for large scale Mekong based irrigation schemes.
We know – and can predict some of the consequences of damming rivers through a wide range of modeling techniques and past experience;
Both positive consequences, such as;
And negative consequences, such as;
However; what we cannot predict as easily – is the potential impact that the barrier effect of proposed dams could have on fish migration – and hence fisheries and food security.
The MRC is heavily engaged in planning in the basin – especially through the Basin Development Plan process and other initiatives to engage with stakeholders. The Fisheries Programme’s efforts to develop an improved model for forecasting how fish will respond to potential changes from dams make it central to our river management planning.
The impact of hydropower on fisheries is fast becoming one of the biggest issues for the Programme and I am pleased to see that we are making a significant effort to understand it. The work of the Fisheries Programme over the past 18 – 24 months has included;
In fact – you will see that this topic forms a large part of our agenda today.
This year has seen the launch of campaigns by several special interest hydropower civil society groups and this has co-incided with a marked increased in the public debate about dams on the Mekong in riparian countries.
The MRC is increasingly taking part in the public discourse on this topic – and I am pleased to see articles in Catch and Culture – as well as recent press releases coming from the organization on this issue. There is a need – and it is something that can be addressed by everyone here in their daily work - to increase our exposure with regard to this issue. We are engaged as a facilitator of dialogue on such issues. Not to take sides – but to ensure that there is a good "science based" discourse going on – and that as much as possible - the key players make decisions based on clear and objective research – which is our strength.
But even without dams on the mainstream, the fisheries of the Mekong is experiencing development pressures, for example from population growth. Fish catch per head of population is declining. Some important species are under threat of extinction. Climate change may intensify the pressures. Therefore , a more comprehensive strategy for the basin’s fisheries management is required to provide a key contribution to poverty reduction in the region.
I am pleased to see the governments of the region recognising the importance of fisheries. The Government of Lao PDR has declared a moratorium on catching the critically endangered Mekong giant catfish during this year’s fishing season. Lao fishermen in Bokeo will not be permitted to fish for Mekong giant catfish this year. The Mekong giant catfish is one of the largest freshwater fish in the world so we wait to see if the Provincial government over the river in Chiang Rai will follow suit.
In April, I was very pleased to join with representatives of the Lao and Thai governments to release 200,000 Jullien’s Golden Carp fingerlings into the Mekong, as part of a MRC supported fish breeding programme. This kind of co-operation is exactly what we need if we are to ensure sustainability of the fisheries of the Mekong. These carp can grow up to 70 kg in weight and over 1.65 metres in length, which is a lot of protein!
Another strength of the MRC in fisheries is the work we have done with the communities actually engaged in fishing. I am pleased to see that today we will be seeing community representatives presenting their work. The MRC needs to continue to expand our community based work.
If you look in the bags that you have all been given, you will see the latest issue of our regular publication - Catch and Culture.
The MRC Fisheries Programme is a prolific producer of quality communications materials, many of which are on display here today. Through its posters, technical publications, Technical Advisory Body booklets, films and other materials, many of which are available in five languages, the Fisheries Programme sets a benchmark for publications – which are a valuable resource for those involved in the study of Mekong aquatic resources.
I would like to congratulate the Fisheries Programme for
the range of publications it produces – some of these
include thethe Cambodian Fishing Gear book, available in
both English and Khmer – and to be released next week
– the photographic book on Mekong fisheries, called
"The Living Mekong", jointly produced by the MRC
But at the same time, I would also like to challenge my colleagues in the Fisheries Programme and others here today. It is still surprising to me that so many people, including those in influential positions, are not fully aware of the importance of the Mekong fisheries. Many do not know that it is the world's largest single inland fishery. That it is second only to the Amazon in terms of diversity. And that at its peak, millions of fish are migrating every hour. We have the technical reports and data, what is missing are more accessible versions of this analysis for policy makers and the public more generally. This is the communications challenge that we have to face.
I would like to thank our partners over the last year especially WorldFish, the national line agencies for fisheries; the National Mekong Committees for Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam; and the donors Danida, Sida and ACIAR, for their cooperation and support for the MRC. I can see representatives from many fisheries agencies here today – not just national but colleagues from FAO and SEAFDEC among others – which is pleasing to see.
I would also like to thank Sou Phirin, Governor of Siem Reap – for allowing us to have the meeting in his wonderful town – and at this excellent hotel; our hosts the Cambodian National Mekong Committee; and all the people that have put such effort in making this meeting possible.
To sum up - our Fisheries Programme - and the other fisheries
agencies in the region - have a vital role to play in providing
information on fisheries and peoples’ use of the river.
Our work should have an important bearing on decisions about
use of the river – especially any trade-offs between
fisheries and hydropower.
I hope that this will be the basis of much lively discussion today.