Last month brought a little limelight to FISHBIO’s international conservation program in Southeast Asia. The environmental and conservation news website mongabay.com interviewed our conservation director, Harmony Patricio, about the importance and challenges of studying Mekong River fishes, and about the recently launched Mekong Fish Network. “The world needs to realize that the Mekong is like the Amazon rainforest,” Patricio said of the river’s value. “It’s a global resource of incredible diversity and productivity.” A few excerpts from the interview are below. You can read the full article, accompanied by vivid FISHBIO photos, at mongabay.com.
Mongabay: How did you start working in the Mekong?
Harmony Patricio: So many people told me about the amazing fish diversity in the Mekong, how little is known about the lifecycles of most species, how important the fish are for the people living in the Mekong Basin, and how many big changes were on the horizon in Southeast Asia. I had a feeling that the Mekong would be the next hotspot for fish conservation… FISHBIO’s primary goal for our international work is to share our technical expertise in the places where it’s most needed. I felt like the Mekong region, and Lao PDR in particular, had a high need for technical capacity building to support local scientists.
Mongabay: What makes the Mekong River special in terms of fish?
Harmony Patricio: It has the second largest number of fish species of any river on earth, only after the Amazon River. More than 850 species have been described, and researchers estimate there could be over 1200 species. As a comparison, the whole state of California has about 67 freshwater fishes…What’s also special is how important the fish are for the people. There are over 60 million people that depend on the fish for protein and income, and the economic value of the fisheries is as much as $3.8 billion US dollars per year on first sale. So the river’s fish are highly diverse, feed a lot of people, and are worth a lot of money.
Mongabay: What do you hope to achieve with your new project, the Mekong Fish Network?
Harmony Patricio: The main goal of the Mekong Fish Network is to help people working with fish in the different countries of the Mekong Basin collaborate across national borders and share information so we can better understand what’s happening with Mekong fishes throughout the basin…We also hope to develop and implement standardized fish sampling methods throughout the basin to build a long-term monitoring program that studies how these fish populations change over time. No basin-wide program like this currently exists, and we need it if we want to achieve more sustainable fisheries management, conserve some of these rare or migratory species that are on the brink of extinction, and sustain the river’s productivity that people rely on for food and income.