Australia launches new five-year project to
quantify impacts of fishways in Laos
VIENTIANE (April 1, 2016) – Australia has launched a five-year project to quantify the biophysical and community impacts of improved fish passage in Laos. The project is among the largest fisheries projects since the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) began its first Lao fisheries project on indigenous species in 1997. It is also the fifth ACIAR project in eight years to address the use of fishways to boost Lao fish production in areas where barriers to fish migration have been built.
Mr Khamphiew Phimmathad, Director General of the Bolikhamxay Provincial Agriculture and Forestry Office, said development of Lao infrastructure, especially roads and irrigation systems, had occurred rapidly in recent years. “These benefits will greatly benefit agriculture but may impact to fish migration and lead to decreased wetland fish production,” he told a workshop launching the project in Pak San District on Friday.
“The construction of suitable fishways can allow fish to migrate and also support sustainable development,” Mr Khamphiew said, noting that many countries had developed fishways over the years. “It is possible to have food, water and energy production but only if designed in the best possible way.”
“Fish passage in Laos is an emerging scientific discipline,” the director general said, underlining the importance of basing fishway designs on data for Mekong species. “Lao PDR is rapidly developing water resources for many purposes. Therefore study on fish passage for utilisation in Lao is necessary, especially for including fish-passage outcomes into irrigation and development policy.”
Mr John Williams, the Australian ambassador to Lao PDR said at the meeting “Australia is proud to support this work, through the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research, or ACIAR, drawing on all our experiences over the past 20 years in the Murray Darling river basin”. He noted that cost effective fish passage technology to bring fish back to the wetlands is a vital effort in the ongoing story of the Lao PDR’s economic development.
The first ACIAR fishway project, from 2008 to 2009, focused on developing criteria for floodplain species in central provinces. This was followed by a second ACIAR project from 2010 to 2015 to develop fishway technology to boost fisheries production in the floodplains of the Lower Mekong Basin and the Murray-Darling Basin in Australia. During the second project, more than 8,000 barriers to fish migration were identified in just three tributary catchments of the Mekong – Xe Bang Hieng, Xe Champone and Nam Ngum.
The third project, from 2012 to 2013, was a pilot study to develop design criteria for fish-friendly irrigation and mini-hydropower projects in the two river basins. The fourth, launched in 2014 and scheduled to be completed in 2018, aims to improve the design of irrigation infrastructure.
Although these projects showed that fishways could be effective for Mekong fish species, feedback was that the scope of the work should be expanded to show and quantify their impact. ACIAR therefore commissioned the Institute for Land, Water and Society at Charles Sturt University to carry out the new project from 2016 to 2020, which aims to make it easier to adopt fishway technology to rehabilitate declining fisheries.
Objectives of new project
The new project aims to evaluate the colonisation of species in seasonal wetlands and quantify whether there has been annual increases in fish production at sites where fishways have been built. It also aims to quantify, in social and economic terms, options for building fishways at barriers on rivers and promote the uptake of project outputs.
“We’re keen for other donors to add to the outcomes by building more fishways,” said Dr Chris Barlow, the ACIAR Fisheries Program Manager. The former manager of the Mekong River Commission Fisheries Program said ACIAR also hoped outcomes could be taken to “other countries” in the region. Dr Barlow explained that the new project was part of ACIAR’s “strategic research” in which benefits might take more than five years to be realised – unlike its “applied research” which focuses on improving livelihoods and income security in less than five years.
The leader of the new project is Dr Lee Baumgartner, Associate Professor at Charles Sturt University, located in Bathurst in the Australian state of New South Wales. The collaborating Australian scientist is Dr Bethany Cooper, an economist at the University of South Australia.
The two Lao collaborating scientists are Dr Oudom Phonekhampeng, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry at the University of Laos, and Mr Doungkham Singhanouvong, Deputy Director of the Living Aquatic Resources Research Centre in Vientiane.
Other partners include Australian Fish Passage Services, a Queensland-based consultancy, and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries.
Through research partnerships, Dr Barlow said, “ACIAR assists collaborating agencies to build and sustain their capacity to manage capture fisheries and aquaculture industries for improved incomes and food security.” He also noted that the new project was the 14th ACIAR fisheries project in Laos since 1997. Of these, eight were considered small projects and two were medium-sized projects. ACIAR considers four of the projects as large, including the ongoing project launched in 2014 and the new project led by Charles Sturt University.
For further information, please contact:
Dr Oudom Phonekhampeng
Dean, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Laos
Mr Doungkham Singhanouvong
Deputy Director, Living Aquatic Resources Research Centre
Dr Lee Baumgartner
Associate Professor, Charles Sturt University