• Duong Thanh

The Transboundary Interactions and Beliefs to Protect Aquatic Animals in the Mekong

The Mekong in the area of Sangkhom district, which is the spawning ground of the seven-stripped carp (Thai Yisok fish) and the habitat of the giant catfish

In the present day, the Mekong river faces decadence, especially from building too many hydropower dams on it. According to the research from the ComNetMekhong association, the Ban Muang subdistrict in Nong Khai province is a joint area where the ecosystem is greatly suitable to be aquatic animals’ habitats, especially for the Mekong giant catfish and the seven-stripped carp. The community survey in 2008 found that estimated as eighty of the seven-stripped carp were caught in the area.

One of the model conservation areas in Sangkhom District, which was generated by monks and villagers in the communities

However, Later in 2013, a phenomenon of heavy rains occurred in China. Drainage from the Chinese dam has been accelerated. As a result, the Mekong River changed its color into ‘red’ in December, which is winter. This is the year when the fishermen could not catch any seven-stripped carp. Since then, the number of caught parent fish has steadily decreased, an average becoming no more than 20 per year. Mekong giant catfish and the seven-stripped carp are admired as masters of the Mekong due to their massive sizes. It is a pity that they are facing the danger of extinction.

Monks are improving the fish conservation area around the temple's waterfront

The association “ComNetMekhong” have been studying and researching the situation, problems, and impacts caused by ecological changes in the Mekong River and its tributaries; including drought and floods caused by the construction of hydropower dams in the Mekong River and global climate change with government and private sectors in the area since 2013. At present time, the association also has projects for fish conservation by creating fish conservation zones in the areas of more than 17 religious institutions(temples) located along the side of the Mekong river. At first, it was unbelievable how the output came out. Mostly more than 80% of the small fish survive in the religious conservation areas. It has been researched that the villagers and local people tend to respect and believe in what the monks tell and beg for. Thus, at the end of the projects, there might be numerous fish released to the Mekong river.

The seven-stripped carp (Yisok) that was caught in Sangkhom district in the past. In the present days, the species is already hard to find

Too many huge constructions on the Mekong river are destroying the ecosystem and food security. They cause a lot of change until the people along the river face the struggle. Until one day that they realize no one is coming to help, the villagers need to find their own ways for rebuilding their food security. What is interesting about this is that ‘belief’ is used as a significant strategy to protect the aquatic animals and environment. Building fish conservative zones in the temple located along the Mekong river is widely spread and receives satisfying outcomes. There are many fish-conservative areas in both Thai and Laos borders. By sharing the same belief, both local Thai and across border neighbors are going to cooperate on the fish conservative areas and be a part of resolving the food security problems.

Department of Fisheries surveys the area and buy fish species for artificial insemination every year

From this point of view, a project related to food security and food resources restoration, including fishes and other aquatic animals in the Mekong was proposed by a group of various experts and local volunteers, namely The Transboundary Interactions & Beliefs to Protect Aquatic Animals in the Mekong. The idea of the project refers to the promotion of conservation areas in religious places. By the use of shared religious beliefs of the Thai and Laos border to influence the community people along the Mekong, it would lead to achieving our goal of restoring food resources. Fishing is going to be prohibited at the targeted religious areas such as holy ponds and several temple areas along the Mekong River in Thailand and Laos. The presented area used to have a large number of giant catfish and seven-stripped carp (Thai Yisok fish) in the past. Though, now those are in the state of near-extinction. It is believed that this model is going to result in effective outcomes as we have seen in many areas of Thailand.

Villagers found a dead giant catfish floating in the water at Sangkhom district, Nong Khai province in April 2021

Source: the ComNetMekhong Association.

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