Mekong Dams Could Wipe Out Some of Last Healthy Inland Fisheries

Across the world, thirst for cheap electricity from hydroelectric dams has strained inland fisheries, and now one of the world’s last relatively wild rivers faces the same fate. The Mekong River flows some 2,800 miles from the Tibetan ice fields, through the mountains of southern China, and over the floodplains of Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, where its highly seasonal flows deposit rich sediment and a bounty of wild fish. Poverty-stricken residents of Cambodia are dependent on wild protein, and if they lose that source of sustenance, their alternative is “working all hours in a textiles factory in Phnom Penh,” says Chris Barlow of the Mekong River Commission. But two massive dams built on the river in energy-hungry China are already draining the fisheries, two more are under construction, and at least four more are planned. Barlow laments the shortsighted policy, saying “a dam has a short life; 30 years or less. Even when the dam is dismantled, the fishery may never come back.”