Dead fish in the water? Did the Don Sahong dam do it? | Lao Tribune

Dead fish in the water? Did the Don Sahong dam do it?

Hydropower projects are big targets for people who are looking for someone to blame.

Here’s a good example. During this year’s dry season, bunches of dead fish were found in and around Siphandone. Fish turned up dead along the Lao-Cambodian border in the main Mekong channel; in the channel between the new Veunkham Bridge and Khone Falls; and near Don Tan, an island upstream of the falls.

Cambodian news media reported that one of the fish-kill sites was near the Don Sahong dam project.

Environmentalists and anti-dam critics quickly concluded that the Don Sahong construction must be responsible for offing the fish. Case closed?

In April, the Ministry of Energy and Mines, which is responsible for the development of Don Sahong, asked authorities to investigate the fish kills. For three months, investigators interviewed fishermen, village chiefs and government staff. They examined many dead fish and visited stores and markets in the area.

Their final report, “Fish Kills at Khone Falls in the Dry Season of 2016,” contains this finding:

“All people interviewed believe the fish were killed by destructive fishing, including the use of explosives, poisons and electro-fishers.”

Authors Kent G. Hortle, Somphone Phommanivong and Yupapon Singsua, who work for Don Sahong, confirmed that dead fish were seen in much larger numbers than in any previous year.

The researchers observed that destructive fishing methods are being used in the dry season in both Laos and Cambodia when the water is clear enough to see fish. They say destructive fishing is on the rise mainly because of strong demand in the dry season from fish traders who supply fish to Pakse, Vientiane and Thailand. In some cases, the traders pay for and provide fishers with equipment to kill fish.

The report states: “Destructive fishing is relatively quick and efficient compared to legal methods, so once some people start to do it, others tend to join in as they feel disadvantaged. According to the interviewed fishers, the apparent increase in destructive fishing in the 2016 dry season is not directly related to the dam construction, but increased road access for outsiders may have exacerbated the increasing trend.”

“Most of the dead fish seen in 2016 appear to have originated from the use of rice laced with insecticide, which is fed to fish where they can be seen feeding, primarily targeting medium-sized cyprinids (carps). This is a relatively new method that is dangerous to the users and anybody eating the fish. Some people have reportedly become sick or died in Cambodia after eating poisoned fish.”

The report also noted the use of electro-fishing devices by Lao and Cambodian fishermen on both sides of the border. Some have been arrested, fined, and had their gear confiscated.

So it seems the dam wasn’t to blame. By the way, construction at Don Sahong is being done in dry land behind a cofferdam. There’s no water flowing out of the construction area into Siphandone’s many Mekong channels. There is no blasting going on in the water.

The researchers encouraged the Don Sahong Fisheries Management Committee to step up its efforts to educate and inform the public about the harm caused by destructive fishing, and to increase inspections and enforcement. The 30-page report is posted on the Web at

Source: Lao News Agency