Environmental Management

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 141–159 | Cite as

Potential Effects of Dams on Migratory Fish in the Mekong River: Lessons from Salmon in the Fraser and Columbia Rivers

  • John W. Ferguson
  • Michael Healey
  • Patrick Dugan
  • Chris Barlow


We compared the effects of water resource development on migratory fish in two North American rivers using a descriptive approach based on four high-level indicators: (1) trends in abundance of Pacific salmon, (2) reliance on artificial production to maintain fisheries, (3) proportion of adult salmon that are wild- versus hatchery-origin, and (4) number of salmon populations needing federal protection to avoid extinction. The two rivers had similar biological and physical features but radically different levels of water resource development: the Fraser River has few dams and all are located in tributaries, whereas the Columbia River has more than 130 large mainstem and tributary dams. Not surprisingly, we found substantial effects of development on salmon in the Columbia River. We related the results to potential effects on migratory fish in the Mekong River where nearly 200 mainstem and tributary dams are installed, under construction, or planned and could have profound effects on its 135 migratory fish species. Impacts will vary with dam location due to differential fish production within the basin, with overall effects likely being greatest from 11 proposed mainstem dams. Minimizing impacts will require decades to design specialized fish passage facilities, dam operations, and artificial production, and is complicated by the Mekong’s high diversity and productivity. Prompt action is needed by governments and fisheries managers to plan Mekong water resource development wisely to prevent impacts to the world’s most productive inland fisheries, and food security and employment opportunities for millions of people in the region.


Dams Migratory fish Fish passage Mitigation Fisheries 



We thank the Mekong River Commission, specifically Tim Burnhill, for developing a map of the mainstem dams proposed in the Mekong basin that was used to develop Fig. 1. We thank Jeff Cowan from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center for his help in developing the maps used in Figs. 1, 2, and 4. We adapted Fig. 3 from PSC (2009). We adapted Fig. 5 from a figure originally presented in NRC (1996), which we updated using data provided by Robin Ehlke, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. We thank the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for providing the adult salmon count data from Bonneville Dam used to develop Fig. 6. Finally, we thank James Peacock of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center for his assistance in developing and formatting all of the figures for publication. Points of views or opinions expressed in this document are those of the authors and do not reflect an official view or position of the author’s affiliations. We received no direct financial support, but minor in-kind support from NOAA Fisheries (Ferguson), WorldFish Centre (Dugan) and the Mekong River Commission (Barlow) was used to produce this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC (outside the USA)  2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • John W. Ferguson
    • 1
  • Michael Healey
    • 2
  • Patrick Dugan
    • 3
  • Chris Barlow
    • 4
  1. 1.NOAA Fisheries, Northwest Fisheries Science CenterWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  3. 3.WorldFish CentrePenangMalaysia
  4. 4.Australian Centre for International Agricultural ResearchCanberraAustralia

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