December 9, 2011

Laos dam looms over fish quota


A new government plan has set a goal for an annual 1.2 million tonnes of fish by 2019, but officials and environmentalist have said the construction of Xayaburi dam in Laos could stymie Mekong fisheries.

The plan would push fish exports to 500,000 tonnes of fish per year, generating an estimated US$1 billion in revenues, Nao Thouk, director general of fisheries at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery, said.

Strengthened conservation would increase fishery output by 15 per cent a year, he added.

The plan, which will be formally announced on January 11, would also secure increased fish for domestic consumption. Cambodia currently produces about 500,000 tonnes of fish per year.

“We will cooperate with other NGOs to ensure [the success of] the plan, which will serve both local consumption and increase the national budget,” Nao Thouk said.

However, construction of the Xayaburi dam in Laos would jeopardise the plan. Cambodia, along with Vietnam, Thailand and other development partners, have asked that the $3.7 billion dam on the Mekong be postponed for 10 years due to the potential for the destruction of fisheries downstream, Nao Thouk said. Laotian authorities have yet to do a proper assessment of the dam’s impact on Cambodia.

“Laos has not conducted a study on the lower Mekong. They only did that at the site of development,” Nao Thouk said.

Laos said yesterday it would postpone construction on the dam, according to Bloomberg, but the length of the delay was not specified.

Xayaburi would cause lower water levels during the rainy season and higher levels during the dry season, something that could change the quality of the Mekong water, Om Savath, executive director of the Fisheries Action Coalition Team, said yesterday. “It will definitely have a serious impact on the output of fisheries,” he said.

Although crackdowns on illegal fishing had helped increase fish populations, the 1.2 million-tonne goal would most likely not be met, Om Savath said.

The more than 100 per cent increase needed to reach that goal was not feasible in the given time frame, he said.

Lov Heung, a fish exporter in Koh Thom district of Kandal province, said fish output had been noticeably increasing this year.

Exporters’ yields had also increased, Lov Heung claimed, but declined to say by how much.

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