Fishermen, farmers and residents around the Mekong River in Chiang Rai say China’s construction of upriver dams has taken a toll on fish, preventing them from spawning normally.
Fishermen said the dams have disrupted the river and changed its nature, making it more coercive and harsher on wildlife with the wet season no longer able to be relied on.
The Chiang Khong Conservation Group said the residents have urged authorities to tackle the issue; stakeholders, however, seem reluctant to take action to address the issue, adding that those responsible for the dams would say the problems are not caused by the dams.
Niwat Roykaew, head of the group, said fish can only breed in rainy seasons when the river waters rise and flow into the tributaries. However, in the past years, many fish have not been able to go to the tributaries to spawn because the water is held up by dams upstream causing some species to decline.
“China holds back the water to to benefit itself. Dams are built to produce electricity. So, they hold water in the rainy seasons to produce electricity in the dry seasons,” he said.
Many fishermen have been forced to change their careers after losses they bore from fishing, spending the whole day without fishing or catching less than one kilogram. They also can no longer afford petroleum.
“Before China built the dams, there were 70-80 fishing boats taking a turn to fish as there are fishermen from our village and North Pa-Ing village, but we don’t fish nowadays,” one fisherman from Chiang Rai Province said.
Chinese dams have caused cumulative effects and damage to people over the past 20 years.