Upstream Mekong fishermen enjoy increased catch after traps destroyed

CHAMPASSAK (Vientiane Times/ANN) - Many fishermen working upstream along the Mekong River in Khong district, Champassak province are delighted to be catching more fish after hundreds of fish traps were destroyed by authorities recently.

More than 400 fish traps, mostly “lee” or basket-type traps fashioned out of wood and bamboo, have been completely destroyed by the provincial committee along certain channels downstream of the river.

The committee’s actions follow fishery legislation set in 2009 banning the use of fish traps or other tools that can seriously harm fish stocks.

Lee traps are traditional traps that catch fish migrating downstream - used in the early wet season they are usually built from scratch during the dry season only to be washed out by the heavy rains later in the wet season.

Last weekend, a Vientiane Times team travelled to Khong district to interview authorities, experts from the Don Sahong hydropower project, fishermen and local fishmongers after hearing about the change.

Khong district’s Thakhor Village Head Vansana Syhaboud told Vientiane Times that “many fishermen upstream of the river have caught so many fish by the end of May which fishmongers have been selling at low prices, at just over 10,000kip per kilogram,” adding that fishermen in other villages upstream were also enjoying being able to catch more fish.

Vansana said he was also one of the fishermen who had used lee traps to catch fish previously, catching over 10 tonnes and earning between 30 and 40 million kip a year but said he stopped using the trap during the last few years instead helping his family open a small shop.

A fisherman in Nakasang village, Khong district Pao Silakoun who has been fishing for over 30 years mostly using nets or hooks said that this rainy season fishermen have enjoyed catching lots of fish, selling around two tonnes per day at Nakasang market.

Pheangsy, a fishmonger who buys fish directly from fishermen in Nakasang village said that when fishermen were using lee traps, one person could sell up to one tonne of fish to her but in the Nakasang area now herself and five other local agents will receive only two tonnes a day.

“They’re selling a lower amount of fish because they stop using the fish traps but many fishermen upstream are now able to catch more fish than ever before,” she added.

She explained that from June to September was the high season to catch fish and that this month, paphia or carp, was the most expensive catch in the area, selling at 25,000 to 30,000kip per kg.

Fishery consultant to the Don Sahong hydropower plant, Somphone Phommanivong said “There are many fishermen upstream that are now very happy to be catching fish after over 430 fish traps and other tools have been removed from seven channels downstream while we’ve also improved the channels to aid fish going upstream.”

“We currently have cleared eight channels to make way for fish going upstream and we are still continuing to help make new ways for fish to get upstream, creating a more sustainable flow of fish which many local residents can share the benefit of,” he added.

He explained that in 2000 over 400 lee fish traps and other tools were used, allowing fishermen to catch between 1.5 to 20 tonnes per trap so stopping the use if traps were critical to sustain an increasing number of fish.

“Accordingly, we still monitor fish numbers at Pakxe and Vernkham markets where we had found 300 tonnes of fish in 2009 which increased to 400 tonnes in 2016, where the number of fish had increased after the using of traps was decreased and/or removed,” he further noted, adding that he believed the number of fish would again increase this year.

The Don Sahong hydropower plant is being constructed from 2016 to 2019 on one channel of the Mekong River near Khone Falls in Khong district.