The Mekong River in Southeast Asia travels through a basin rich in natural resources. The river originates on the northern slope of the world's tallest mountains, the Himalaya Range, and then drops elevation quickly through steep mountain gorges, tumbling out of China into Myanmar (Burma) and the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). The precipitous terrain of Lao PDR and Thailand generates interest in the river and its tributaries for hydropower development. The terrain, soils, water, and climate make it one of the world's most biologically rich regions. The Mekong's bounty is again on display in the Mekong River Delta, where rice production has successfully been increased to high levels making Vietnam second only to Thailand as the world's largest rice exporters. At least 800 fish species contribute to the natural resource bounty of the Mekong River and are the basis for one of the world's most productive fisheries that provide the primary protein source to more than 50 million people. Against this backdrop of rich natural resources, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is working with the consulting firm FISHBIO, colleagues from the international Delta Research and Global Observation Network (DRAGON) Institute, and a broad contingent of Southeast Asian representatives and partners from abroad to increase knowledge of the Mekong River fisheries and to develop the capacity of permanent residents to investigate and understand these fisheries resources. With the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) region facing the likelihood of significant environmental changes as a result of both human activities and global climate change, enhancing environmental understanding is critical. To encourage cooperation among the LMB scientists and managers in the study of the Mekong River's fisheries, FISHBIO and the USGS, with generous support from the U.S. State Department, hosted a workshop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in February 2012. Workshop participants were from Lao PDR, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Representatives from the governments, universities, nongovernmental organizations, and the Mekong River Commission discussed current and potential methods and mechanisms of the Mekong Fish Monitoring Network. The goals of the workshop were to determine if the Network and associated databases were of interest and value to the LMB nations, to determine if future fisheries monitoring data would be comparable among the nations, and to establish methods and an organizational structure for collaborating on future monitoring and research. The participants in this international workshop agreed that the Network would be useful but would require additional funding to secure their full participation. The USGS and FISHBIO are collaboratively seeking additional funding to expand research participation and projects in all four LMB nations. If the Network can facilitate cooperation among many fisheries researchers in the LMB, the basin would become a model of cooperative international fishery studies and would increase the understanding of a river basin rich in natural resources.
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February 2012 workshop jumpstarts the Mekong Fish Monitoring Network