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

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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.

Since over ten years ago, rice and vegetable cultivation has become the main livelihood in Vam Nao village (Photo by Vu Hai Linh.)

Since over ten years ago, rice and vegetable cultivation has become the main livelihood in Vam Nao village (Photo by Vu Hai Linh.)

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.

Vam Nao village of An Giang Province, Vietnam is located in the flooded area of the Mekong Delta, and is near to the border with Cambodia (Photo by Vu Hai Linh.)

Villagers from Vam Nao village conducted local knowledge research using the “Thai Baan” methodology during 2013 and 2014. They found that the amount of fish had seriously reduced since 2000. They decided to determine why. (Photo by Local village Researcher, Vam Nao village.)

In the last 20 years, people’s livelihoods have changed in Vam Nao village. Until the 1990s, they used to catch fish as their main source of income. They used to grow rice, but this was mainly using traditional methods and for local consumption (Photo by Vu Hai Linh.)

The village research found that now fishers cannot catch as much fish as before and the fish caught are getting smaller, even in the flooded season when in the past there were many fish (Photo by Vu Hai Linh.)

Even the local consumption of fish has changed. Nowadays, most aquatic resources for sale in the local market – such as here in the “North Shore local market” - are aquaculture products, rather than wild capture fish (Photo by Vu Hai Linh.)

Since the 1990s, North Vam Nao area has been transformed by the construction of irrigation systems, such as the Phu Hiep sluice gate pictured here. It means that villagers can cultivate 3 crops of rice per year (Photo by Vu Hai Linh.)

Since over ten years ago, rice and vegetable cultivation has become the main livelihood in Vam Nao village (Photo by Vu Hai Linh.)

The new main road of Vam Nao village, which was raised in 2003, is simultaneously a dyke which prevents water from flowing in and out of the fields, but that also prevents fish from entering the field to spawn and grow (Photo by Vu Hai Linh.)

More farming activities mean local farmers use more and more chemical fertilizer and pesticide. These chemicals have contributed to fish reduction. They also have a serious cost for the farmers’ health. (Photo by Vu Hai Linh.)

Most villagers use modern gear nowadays to catch fish, which even catches the young fish before they can grow and spawn. This picture shows the last “vó” in Vam Nao village, which is a traditional fishing tool that was common in the past. (Photo by Vu Hai Linh.)

Nowadays, there are also more destructive fishing gears in use. This photo shows a “Don” fishing tool. This gear is cheap and is permitted for use in the flooded season, when thousands are in use. It is more restricted but still used during the rest of the year, and even catches young fish. (Photo by Vu Hai Linh.)

Since 2012, the local authority has also recognized the issue of fisheries decline and have started to implement the “Fish Release Festival” for fisheries regeneration annually in February. (Photo by Local village Research, Vam Nao village.)

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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