Artisanal Fisheries in the Lower Mekong River: A Student’s Ventures into Fisheries Science

Author: Vo Le Gia Linh

Abstract

Urban artisanal fisheries are critical to the social fabric of their communities, particularly along the Mekong River in southeast Asia. Using skill sets, disciplines, and professional insights recently acquired during a marathon three-week undergraduate fisheries science course at Can Tho University (Vietnam) as my platform, I planned and conducted a survey of fishers in the lower Mekong River. Three locations were selected from two distributaries on the Mekong River near its delta in the proximity of Can Tho City. Seventeen fishers agreed to participate in the study and allowed me to participate with them while fishing. Sixteen fishers were over 30 years old, and eight of these were over 50 years old. Mean fisher experience level among the three locations ranged from 15.2 to 30.8 years. Capture techniques typically were small meshed benthic trawls and larger-meshed gill nets deployed from small wooden boats powered by gasoline engines. Trawl fishers were operative year-round with catches composed primarily of shrimp and small fishes. Gill-net fishers were operative seasonally (during elevated river flows) and focused on large catfishes. The more experienced fishers were more efficient in terms of daily expenses. Their higher catch rates suggested enhanced practical knowledge and understanding of the river’s ecology and its influences on distribution and abundance of the river’s living aquatic resources. Their operational efficiency, coupled with insight into the river’s ecology, added greatly to their income. Fishers who focused specifically on particular fishes (e.g., larger catfishes) seasonally not only had the highest incomes from the fishery but also had several months each year to engage in alternative economic activities during the off-season. This study gave me focus into career possibilities addressing urban artisanal fisheries. Helping fishers achieve economic efficiency can establish trust relationships with fisheries managers that can evolve to also address environmental and natural resources stewardship.

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