Using local knowledge to recover fisheries in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Vam Nao village is located on the riverbank of Vam Nao River in the Mekong River Delta, Vietnam. The river plays a very important role in local community life, both for fisheries and agriculture. In the Mekong Delta, the Mekong River branches in to nine major rivers, and the Vam Nao River balances the water flows between two of these, namely the Tien River and the Hau River.

This photo essay shares the outcome of a one year local knowledge research project conducted in 2013 and 2014 by a group of villagers from Vam Nao village with the support of the Center for Water Resources Conservation and Development (WARECOD). The research followed the “Thai Baan” methodology, where villagers design, research, and analyze the findings themselves.

The village has seen major changes over the past 50 years. Before the 1960s, local villagers mostly caught fish for their daily subsistence, and would exchange fish for other products rather than sell them in the market. At this time, there were very few rice fields. Local villagers only planted one crop per year, and they did not use chemical fertilizer.

After 1975, the population in the village started to increase, and villagers started to plant two crops per year. Mostly, however, villagers’ livelihood was still in many ways subsistence and still dependent mainly on fisheries. However, some villagers caught fish and grew rice for sale in the local market.

In the early 1990s, the Vietnam Government received support from the Australian Government to modernize the irrigation system in the North Vam Nao area, which was completed over a period of ten years. The introduction of the irrigation system profoundly changed the community’s life as more and more households started to cultivate a third crop of rice in the year, the local economy became more focused on producing rice for sale rather than a local subsistence economy, and the amount of fish gradually reduced. In the last 4 years, farmers have also started to grow irrigated vegetables.

When the villagers began their research, the main topic was about the local ecosystem with a focus on aquatic resources. Once they agreed that the amount of fish had reduced by up to 90% compared to the 1990s, they decided to try and identify the main reasons for the reduction.

They found that reasons local to the village included: that too much chemical fertilizer was being used, and that the residues were affecting the fisheries; that there had been a shift from traditional fishing equipment to larger scale modern equipment and that there are some destructive practices, such as electric fishing gear and small mesh nets; and, most importantly, the irrigation dyke in the village prevented fish from moving in to the fields to spawn and to grow. Meanwhile, outside of the village, it was also found that the upstream canals that manage water have been increased in size, such that the flow of water downstream had decreased.

As the research was completed, the villager researchers discussed with the local authorities possible solutions. WARECOD and An Giang university have supported the villagers to implement a couple activities, including establishing a river monitoring group and organizing a fish release communication campaign.


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