Tuesday April 23, 2013


by Jeremy Hance

Home to giant catfish and stingrays, feeding over 60 million people, and with the largest abundance of freshwater fish in the world, the Mekong River, and its numerous tributaries, brings food, culture, and life to much of Southeast Asia. Despite this, little is known about the biodiversity and ecosystems of the Mekong, which is second only to the Amazon in terms of freshwater biodiversity. Meanwhile, the river is facing an existential crisis in the form of 77 proposed dams, while population growth, pollution, and development further imperil this understudied, but vast, ecosystem.

“More than 850 species have been described, and researchers estimate there could be over 1,200 species. As a comparison, the whole state of California has about 67 freshwater fishes,” Harmony Patricio, a conservation biologist and the conservation director at FISHBIO, told mongabay.com in a recent interview. “The Mekong is also the most productive freshwater system on the planet in terms of fish biomass. The estimated annual harvest is over 2.6 million metric tonnes per year, which represents about 18% of the total global inland fishery harvests. That’s almost 1/5 of all freshwater fish harvest across the world, found just in this one river basin.”

A new program by FISHBIO, headed by Patricio, is working to compile and disperse data on the freshwater fish across the region, including gathering information on harvesting. The Mekong Fish Network, as it’s called, hopes to draft baseline data, so that information can be compared over regions and time.

“The main goal of the Mekong Fish Network is to help people working with fish in the different countries of the Mekong Basin to collaborate across national borders and share information so we can better understand what’s happening with Mekong fishes throughout the basin,” she says. “These fish migrate between six different countries: China, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. These countries all speak different languages and have different cultures and government structures, but the fish don’t abide by national borders.

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