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“When I was a child there were more fish in the Songkram river than there were humans around here. Now there are more humans than fish”, Khampan said. “The reason might come from people fishing more without conservation efforts.”
Khamphan Upathum is a 76-year-old local fisherman from Baan Dong Nong Bua, Nakhon Phanom province. Nakhon Phanom is home to the Songkram river, which is 420km long and a main branch of the Mekong River.
“Every day when I was a child I paddled the boat for my father to catch fish. We didn’t sell the fish - we shared them with our family and friends. Thai people are philanthropic,” Khamphan said. “Now I sell fish to make a living.”
Fishing boats resting on the bank of the Songkram river in Baan Dong Nong Bua, Nakhon Phanom province
For the past 56 years Khamphan’s main source of income has been from fishing. “I started fishing when I was 20 years old when I got married - now I am 76,” Khamphan said.
Khamphan and his community joined in on the conservation efforts with WWF and local authorities. By joining trainings and demarcating 43 fish conservation zones with a total area of 332.8 hectares, Khamphan and the community developed long-term conservation skills.
The abundance of fish commenced its way to recovery in 2014. “In 2014, WWF-Thailand came to work with and supported many villages around the Songkram river to define fish conservation zones. In the past one to two years I have observed that there has been more fish in the river”, said Khamphan. To recover the ecology and biodiversity of the lower Songkram river basin, WWF-Thailand’s freshwater program partnered with HSBC’s water program. Over 240,000 people, including Khamphan, from 50 target villages have benefitted from the program’s activities.
“WWF supported the community in buying equipment and other materials for the demarcation of fish conservation zones and guided us to issue regulations to govern ourselves”, Khamphan said.
View of the Songkram river from a bridge
After six years of project implementation, the increased fish stock and fish diversity have benefitted the wellbeing of more than 240,000 people in four to five different countries. In the past one to two years Khamphan has observed that there have been higher abundances of fish in the river. “I recently caught a carp fish that weighed 6-8 kg,” Khamphan said. “After demarcating the fish conservation zones, fish started to find refuge there. The fish know that it is a safe zone.”
“There was one year I earned around 40,000 baht from fishing. On average each fisherman will catch 300 kg of fish per year - with 40 fishermen in our village, that’s 12,000 kg of fish caught per year. We get 120 baht per kilogram of fish, so our village’s annual income from fish is around 1.4 million baht - a substantial amount”, Khamphan said.
Khamphan under the bridge along the Songkram river
The income from selling fish enabled Khamphan to support his two children to attend university. “One of them is a gardener, the other is studying the Chinese, Korean, English, and Japanese languages in Australia”, Khamphan proudly said.
This project has demonstrated that healthy ecosystems, balanced water stewardship and watershed management are crucial for long-term sustainability. To disseminate the lessons learned from this water stewardship project to policy makers in other regions with similar ecosystems is to further increase the beneficiaries in the future.