Mekong fish species face extinction

Dwindling catch: A file photo of fishermen catching mud carp at Tonle Sap lake. — Reuters

ONE-FIFTH of fish species in the Mekong river face the threat of extinction, according to a new report from a coalition of regional and international environmental groups.

The Mekong – among the world’s most biodiverse rivers, surpassed only by the Amazon and the Congo – is home to 1,148 recognised species of fish.

But it faces a multitude of threats, according to environmentalists, including dam-building, sand mining, poorly managed fisheries, habitat loss and the introduction of non-native species.

The report said 19% of fish species in the river are seriously threatened by the changes, highlighting how depleted fish populations will affect millions whose livelihoods rely on the river.“The alarming decline in fish populations in the Mekong is an urgent wake-up call for action,” said Lan Mercado, WWF Asia-Pacific regional director.

“We must act now to reverse this disastrous trend because the communities and countries of the Mekong cannot afford to lose them.”

The report from 25 regional and international groups examined the impacts on different parts of the 4,900km river – the longest in South-East Asia – including Cambodia’s Tonle Sap lake, where they said fish populations collapsed by 88% between 2003 and 2019.

The authors said 74 fish species were assessed as “at risk of extinction” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

The internationally recognised indicator of biodiversity health lists 18 species that are critically endangered.

“Officially this means that an estimated 19% of known Mekong fish species are threatened,” the report said.

However, the report said publicly available data was minimal because many river species were under-researched and “it’s safe to say that the true number of globally threatened fish species in the Mekong is much higher than 74”. — AFP

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