Fishermen in Cambodia Hurt by New Dam in Laos

16 December, 2016

Fishermen on the Mekong River in Cambodia say they are being hurt by dams being built in Laos. They say they are catching fewer, and smaller, fish. The fishermen blame illegal fishing with electric nets, overfishing, climate change and drought.

Man Mat is the son of a fisherman. He says, "the fish are getting smaller and smaller. My father catches five to 15 kilograms a day when before it was 100 to 200 kilograms. In 10 years, there'll be no more fish left."

In 2012, officials in Laos announced plans to build the $3.8 billion Xayaburi dam although scientists and environmental activists opposed the project. The officials then announced they would build a $300 million dam.

Last month, the government of Laos decided to build a third dam in the country's north. The $1.88 billion project would be part of a plan to sell electricity to neighboring countries -- especially China. China also has built dams across the Mekong River in its territory.

The fisheries research and development newsletter "Catch and Culture" reports on fishing in the Mekong area. It says the total fish harvest from the Mekong River and its lower delta was valued at $11 billion in 2015. About 70 million people depend on those fish. Their food security is a major cause of tension between Cambodia and Vietnam.

Over the last 20 years, the number of people who depend upon the Mekong River and its delta area has increased by at least 10 million people. This has increased the demand for fish and has led to something scientists call "fishing down." That is when large fish are no longer being caught. They are being replaced by smaller fish that fishermen used to reject and return to the river.

VOA spoke to two fishermen who said they used to catch up to 300 kilograms of fish a day, but now they catch about 20 kilograms if they are lucky.

Laos, however, says it will not change its plans. The country wants to build 11 dams across the Mekong River and 123 across the country.

I'm Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Correspondent Luke Hunt reported this story from Chhaing Chomras, Cambodia. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted his report for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

nets – n. a device made of string or rope that is designed to catch things

drought – n. an extreme lack of rain