Fish populations and river ecosystems in Southeast Asia’s Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) often span international borders; therefore, research, management, and conservation efforts to support the region’s vital fisheries require transboundary communication and collaboration. To explore these issues, FISHBIO and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) convened a workshop of fisheries experts from across the LMB in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2012. Hosted with support from the U.S. State Department, the workshop gathered participants from across a broad range of sectors, including government agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), representing Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as foreign technical experts.
The workshop proposed and explored the concept of a regional network of fisheries researchers (the Mekong Fish Network) to improve fish research, monitoring, and conservation. Such a network could provide a platform for collecting comparable data across the Mekong Basin to better understand how fish populations may respond to future environmental changes at a basin-wide scale. The network could also increase local scientific capacity and provide a forum for researchers to exchange ideas, house data, or access general fisheries research information.
The goals of the consultation workshop were to determine if the proposed network and associated databases were of interest and value to LMB nations; to determine if fisheries monitoring could be conducted to collect comparable data within each nation; and to establish methods and an organizational structure for collaborating on future monitoring and research. The workshop included demonstrations of web-accessible databases, data analyses, and visualizations. Representatives from each country also described current and future fisheries monitoring and research activities occurring around the basin.
The workshop also included smaller group sessions in which participants discussed central issues, such as: which fish species are the most important for monitoring, what are the most important fisheries research questions, and which key resources are most needed. Regional participants generally agreed a research network would be a very useful tool, yet also voiced concerns about their ability to contribute given limited resources. Securing funding and support will therefore be instrumental to ensuring the network’s success. One of the outcomes of this meeting was the development of the Mekong Fish Network website. Additional information about the meeting is summarized in a final report available to download here.