Vientiane Times, April 26, 2013
In an historic first for Laos, the country now has the first ever fish passage built for Mekong species in the entire Asean region, after construction works on the groundbreaking project were completed recently.
The fishway will help fish to move between the Mekong River and the Pak Peung wetlands to access a vital spawning and nursery habitat, which was previously limited by irrigation infrastructure.
Not only this, but it will also provide researchers and fisheries experts with invaluable data about the behaviour and characteristics of different freshwater fish and their ability to traverse fish migration ladders.
The research project was started in 2008 and is being backed by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) who funded a total of AUD$2 million (16 billion kip), with the fishway itself costing AUD$130,000 to construct.
It is a collaborative effort between the National University of Laos, the Living Aquatic Resources Research Centre, the National Agricultural and Forestry Research Institute as well as several Australian partner organisations.
Australian Ambassador to Laos Ms Lynda Worthaisong visited the project site on Wednesday. She was full of praise for the initiative, saying the 120-metre long structure will play a vital role in ensuring food security and boosting the economy of the region.
“This ACIAR funded project in Borikhamxay province is a project that is unique in this region. It takes advantage of new research and technology to build this fish passage here, which is quite a significant construction effort.”
The conical structure known as the “Naga Teeth Design Fishway”, will allow fish to pass over low weirs that are generally less than six metres in height. Currently, there are over 10,000 low irrigation weirs and flood gates that block the passage of fish into adjacent wetlands in the Lower Mekong Basin.
This has a severe impact on the ability of fish to reproduce and provide local villagers with a sustainable food and income (the other being rice).
“The objective of the project is to restore fish passage between the Mekong River and its floodplains,” explained project coordinator, Garry Thorncraft.
“The floodplains are incredibly productive systems and in the wet season, fish move from the Mekong and its tributaries to the floodplains to grow and to spawn. Basically, our aim is to increase the production of fish for the benefit of local rural communities and to improve the overall sustainability of the Mekong fishery, currently valued at between AUD$2-4 billion (16-32 trillion kip) a year.” The project is currently in the research and data-collection stage and the final results of the studies will be determined over the next two years, when the Lao Fish Passage Research Team are able to put the Naga Teeth Fishway to the test.