Home' Partners : Partners: Innovative partnerships Contents 6
ISSUE THREE 2016 PARTNERS
BY CLARE BARRY
W hen the village chief's son opens
the gates of the Pak Peung
fishway in central Laos, he is but
one of a chain of partners spread
across the region and the globe. Their aim is to
balance the delicate tussle between rice and fish
production that ensues when the Mekong River
breaks its banks and spills onto the surrounding
The mighty Mekong runs the length of the
country and can fluctuate in water level by up to
15 metres between wet and dry seasons.
In the rainy season it washes onto the
floodplains, taking with it the eggs and larvae of
migratory fish species that use the floodplain as a
nursery before returning to the main channel at
season's end. But this ancient migration has been
interrupted in recent decades by the construction
of thousands of weirs or 'regulators' on the river's
banks, as villagers strive to protect their floodplain
"People who fish the floodplain swamps report a
decline in species diversity as well as overall number
of fish," says Dr Lee Baumgartner, a freshwater fish
ecologist and project leader on two of three ACIAR
projects bringing fish-passage technology to Laos.
"Securing rice production has unfortunately come at
the cost of fisheries production, which is something
we are helping to fix."
Dr Baumgartner, now with Charles Sturt
University, is part of a team that is building
fishways, also known as fish 'ladders', in Laos, using
technology tried and tested in Australian rivers.
The Australians teamed up with two crucial
local partners: the National University of Laos and
the Living Aquatic Resources Research Center
(LARReC). LARReC, as a government body, was
instrumental in getting local, district and provincial
approvals and ensuring adherence to legislation.
The university helped with project coordination,
engaging villagers and organising students to help
with the research.
"We had a really strong education component
and also strong government engagement through
LARReC, so the partnership was spectacular," Dr
"When we completed the first permanent
fishway it would have been easy to organise a
group of international contractors, they'd have
swept in, done the work and left. But what we
wanted to do was build capacity within local
contractors so that they could undertake the work
themselves." The project team ran a tender process
to find a Lao contractor with good links to the local
village who could use local skills and knowledge to
build the fishway.
"It was really important to make sure the
initiative was run and championed by the Lao
people, we just provided advice when they called
on it," Dr Baumgartner says. "It's been wonderful
working with the Lao team members over the last
eight years. Fish passage is quite a complex field
that mixes ecology with engineering with river
hydrology. There are some fairly tricky concepts
to understand, so part of our technology transfer
has been teaching fish-passage design principles,
while also learning about the Mekong, which is
very different from Australian rivers.
"The University of Laos and LARReC researchers
are now regional leaders recognised for their
knowledge on how to build and operate fishways.
They were invited to an inland fisheries workshop
in Rome, run by the FAO, specifically to showcase
this project. They have also been invited to extend
their information on fishways at a range of other
The Pak Peung fishway opened in 2012. More
than 150 species have been recorded moving
upstream through the fishway, including some
Despite the presence of flood-control weirs, floodplains along
the Mekong River in Laos are once again becoming nurseries for
migratory fish species due to an extraordinary partnership of
local communities and technical experts
n A suite of ACIAR projects to add shways to the
ood-control weirs along the Mekong River
is reversing losses to shery productivity.
n The projects have strong buy-in from local
communities and their impact has inspired
international interest in this conservation model.
PHOTOS: JIM HOLMES/ACIAR
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