On 12-14 November 2014, the Experts Meeting on Mekong Cooperation on Fisheries, Aquatic Resources and Wetlands: 20 years lesson learnt was organized in Phnom Penh, Cambodia as a collaborative effort of SEAFDEC, Mekong River Commission and the Fisheries Administration of Cambodia, with financial support from the SEAFDEC-Sweden Project. Since the establishment of Mekong River Commission (MRC) in 1995, Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam have been working jointly on aquatic resources management and coordinated use of Mekong River’s resources. From the various projects and initiatives that had been implemented in Lower Mekong River Basin (LMB) throughout the last two decades, opportunities and challenges were gained through a broad range of knowledge and lessons were learnt that could be utilized as basis for strengthening the sustainable use of Mekong River’s living aquatic resources for the benefit of the people – especially the rural people who are directly dependent on the fish and other aquatic resources in the River.
H.E. Prof. Dr. Nao Thouk, Director General of the Fisheries Administration of Cambodia and SEAFDEC Council Director for Cambodia who officiated the Opening Ceremonies of the Experts Meeting, thanked SEAFDEC and the SEAFDEC-Sweden Project for spearheading a project in the Mekong River Basin Sub-region that put greater emphasis in strengthening the cooperation and collaboration with MRC as well as with Member Countries that make use of the Mekong River for economic benefits. Considering the presence of MRC in the Sub-region for about 20 years, it is but proper to review what has been done on the sustainability of the River’s aquatic resources and use the experiences gained in charting new direction for inland fisheries as well as for the sustainability of the resources in the Mekong River, without duplicating previous efforts, repeating previous mistakes and waste of resources, and preventing such experiences from being forgotten or even going to waste. He added that the conduct of the Experts Meeting was very timely, especially at this time when the inland fisheries sector has been gaining much attention by the international community.
On the part of SEAFDEC, it was an opportune time to organize such forum considering that SEAFDEC has just added another feather in its cap, the establishment in September 2014 of its fifth Department in Palembang, Indonesia, the Inland Fishery Resource Development and Management Department (IFRDMD). The experiences of MRC could therefore be used as basis not only for the development of future programs for the sustainability of the aquatic resources in the Mekong River Basin but also for the development of sustainable inland fisheries and aquatic resources for the whole Southeast Asian region through the IFRDMD.
The topic of the Experts Meeting was divided into six (6) thematic clusters, namely: (1) Mekong Agreements: Regional (Mekong) and Bi-lateral agreements on the Sustainable Development and Use of Natural Resources in the Mekong River; (2) Assessment of the Productivity (seasonal productivity/migration) and Production from Fisheries and Other Aquatic Resources in the Mekong River Basin (fish and aquatic products harvested); (3) Valuation of Fisheries, Aquatic and Wetlands in the Mekong River Basin; (4) Social/Gender – Strengthening the Rights, Roles and Functions of Communities to Manage, Harvest (and conserve) Fisheries and Other Aquatic Resources (“poor in all but fish”) – including the need to diversify livelihood opportunities; (5) Environmental Focus: Mitigating Lost Inter-connectivity, Wetland Quality Deterioration, Water Quality, Over-coming Effects of Infrastructure – plans for integrated water resources management; and (6) Climate Variability and Climate Change (the average year don’t exist) – the importance of seasonal floods (impacts on fish migration and spawning)
At the end of the three-day Experts Meeting, recommendations were put forward and the areas where countries, concerned agencies and organizations could collaborate were identified, to ensure the sustainability of inland capture fisheries, and its contribution to livelihood, food security and economic development of the LMB as well as other inland fisheries habitats of the Southeast Asian region. Specifically, SEAFDEC was requested to: consider accommodating the concept of MRC’s Basin-wide Fisheries Management Strategy into the SEAFDEC framework on inland fisheries management and development; sustain its cooperation and dialogues with MRC and FAO and relevant organizations and to provide inputs to relevant upcoming meetings in order to support sustainable development and management of inland capture fisheries in the LMB and Southeast Asia as a whole, as well work together in the promotion of the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM) concept in inland fisheries management; and extract the methodologies and tools that have been used for various studies in the LMB, in order that these tools could also be applied in other inland aquatic areas of Southeast Asia with similar conditions as those of the LMB.