The Xe Champhone Wetlands are the largest wetland ecosystem in Laos, covering an area of roughly 45,000 hectares (about 175 square miles) in the southern province of Savannakhet. The wetlands are home to one of the largest global populations of the critically endangered Siamese crocodile, and have been designated a Ramsar Site, or wetland of international significance. More than 40,000 people living in the area rely on the wetlands for fishing and agriculture, which is placing increasing pressure on the ecosystem. Since 2020, FISHBIO has led fisheries conservation activities for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Xe Champhone Landscape program and provided fisheries training for WCS staff. This effort has included working to establish new Aquatic Conservation Zones (ACZs) with local villages that protect aquatic species in the wetlands by restricting human activities, as well as monitoring the effectiveness of new and existing ACZs in the area.

FISHBIO led baseline ecological, socioeconomic and governance surveys before new ACZs were established in several villages, drawing on an assessment guidebook for Fish Conservation Zones that FISHBIO previously created. This effort included gill net surveys to document fish diversity and relative abundance, habitat and water quality assessments, and village interviews about local fishing practices and fish catch patterns. Fisheries surveys are conducted seasonally after ACZs are established to monitor conservation impacts over time. We also conducted interviews to assess villager perceptions of the management of existing ACZs. In communities that agreed to establish new ACZs, FISHBIO assisted with obtaining official approval of protected area regulations, installing signs and boundary markers, and training patrolling teams. We also helped train local fishers how record their catch in logbooks to monitor fish populations near the protected areas, and have advised WCS and local communities on wetland restoration practices.

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