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Title: Adapting fisheries-based livelihoods to hydrological changes in the Lower Mekong River Basin : a case study of Lao PDR
Author: Kaviphone Phouthavong
Awarding Body: University of Hull
Current Institution: University of Hull
Date of Award: 2015
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Nam Theun 2 hydropower dam was selected for this study to assess how local communities respond to hydrological changes and examine the impacts of these changes to ecology and livelihoods of people around the Nakai reservoir and downstream in the Xe Bang Fai River. The results confirmed that fish and Other Aquatic Animals (OAAs) are essential sources of food and income generation of both reservoir and downstream Xe Bang Fai River households. People living around the reservoir and river consume fish and OAAs almost every meal. Fish and OAAs account for 62% (54% in reservoir and 70% in river) of animal protein intake. Reservoir households, which have limited land and poor soil for rice cultivation, rely on the reservoir fishery not just for subsistence but also for generating income to buy rice for consumption. By contrast, the households living further downstream along the Xe Bang Fai River are likely to own more land and fertile soil for agriculture, and the artisanal fisheries are mainly for consumption, but they also sell part of their catch when they have excess or during the high fishing season at the start of the wet season. The results from the study indicate that the impacts of trans-basin hydropower dams on the ecological functioning and livelihoods of people are significant. The impacts from climate change in the study areas and elsewhere are minor in comparison with the impacts from mainstream and tributary dams. Nam Theun 2 dam has changed the hydrological regime of the Xe Bang Fai River, destroyed the riverbed and disrupted dry season refuge habitats. Many high value species that initially resided in the reservoir have disappeared and are replaced by small and carnivorous species such as Channa striata , as well as alien species such as Oreochromis niloticus and Cyprinus carpio. However, it is unclear whether the species composition in downstream areas has changed because fishers are still learning to adapt to high and strong flows or many fishers have shifted to fish in small streams and swamps as they are concerned about safety issues. Fishers in the reservoir have adapted to the new environment and lifestyle by diversifying their income sources, by opening small village shops, trading and labouring to supplement their income from reservoir fishing. The downstream fishers have more opportunities and more diverse livelihood activities to cope with the hydrological changes and adverse weather. Although rice farming is the most important activity for the downstream villages, most of their immediate cash comes from livestock, in particular large ruminants that provide their main sources of income. However, they also sell some of their daily catch to help purchase foods and maintain food security. The study highlights the need to provide financial and technical assistance for the affected households; to assist them starting new alternative livelihood activities aiming to supplement the declining fish catches in the reservoir and river. These livelihood activities include ecotourism and services, cultivating organic vegetable, working in clothes and agricultural processing factories, promoting One District One Product, and aquaculture. The promotion of reservoir fisheries as an alternative livelihood may be good in the short term, but for the long term and sustainable use of fishery resources, there is a need to look for other options outside fisheries and balance between the need for food security and protection of fisheries resources for future generations. Although the reservoir fishery can support production it requires more investment, thus it is necessary to protect habitat in small streams and rivers in the headwaters of the reservoir to ensure fish can use these habitats for spawning. In the river, critical habitats, such as deep pools and floodplains vital to the Mekong fisheries need protection. Maintaining connectivity between the mainstream and floodplains is also necessary, allowing fish free access to spawning, nursery, feeding and refuge habitats to complete their lifecycles. These protections can be instigated at different scales, such as local, national and regional levels, with participation from local communities and institutions concerned with the fisheries. At the regional level, it could be achieved through the trans-boundary fisheries management framework being developed by the Mekong River Commission.
Supervisor: Cowx, Ian G.; Harvey, Jonathan Paul Sponsor: University of Hull ; Michigan State University ; United States Geological Survey
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Fisheries