Exploring Opportunities to Implement Traceability Tools for the Mekong’s Freshwater Fisheries
January 2020 – Since 2015, the USAID Oceans and Fisheries Partnership (USAID Oceans) has worked to address illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in Southeast Asia by developing and implementing electronic catch documentation and traceability (eCDT) technologies that collect essential data that improves fisheries management, promotes long-term global food security, and protects the livelihoods of the millions of people who depend on the seafood industry. USAID Oceans has helped implement nine eCDT technologies in the region that have tracked and verified the legality and sustainability of over 4 million pounds of tuna—approximately $20 million of US tuna imports—throughout the seafood supply chain.
The Mekong freshwater fisheries are some of the most diverse and prosperous in the world. It is estimated that the Mekong’s rivers host over 1,000 species of fish. But economic and population growth is threatening the sustainability of the region’s fisheries, with many species now considered endangered or vulnerable (Mekong River Commission, 2018). It is clear that eCDT technologies benefit marine fisheries, but they also have the potential to improve sustainability in freshwater fisheries. To explore the application of eCDT tools on freshwater fisheries, and at the request of the Lao Department of Livestock and Fisheries (DLF), USAID Oceans held an eCDT Technology Showcase for Freshwater Fisheries Management in the Mekong Region in Vientiane, Lao PDR from January 14 to 17, 2020.
The three-day workshop convened USAID Oceans’ regional and national partners, including the Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center (SEAFDEC), provincial and national representatives from Lao PDR, and USAID Oceans’ technology partners. It was an opportunity to introduce stakeholders to existing eCDT technologies, including their purpose, costs, and benefits, by sharing experiences from implementing these tools under the USAID Oceans project.
The workshop concluded with a field visit to a fishery conservation zone near Vientiane where workshop participants met with local freshwater fishers to learn about their current use of technology and their needs as stakeholders in the industry. The team discussed key considerations for applying eCDT tools to the unique needs of the Mekong’s freshwater fisheries, including existing regulations and enforcement, interactions with other players in the fisheries supply chain, and technology-specific matters, such as connectivity, familiarity with smartphones, and phone service costs.
As USAID Oceans comes to a close, this workshop paves the way for ongoing collaboration among partners to expand eCDT throughout Southeast Asia, including to freshwater fisheries in the Mekong Region. With an increased understanding of available eCDT technologies, USAID Oceans’ partners from the Mekong, including Lao DLF, voiced their commitment to testing these tools; to improve traceability and sustain the region’s freshwater fisheries.