Fish and fisheries in the Upper Mekong: current assessment of the fish community, threats and conservation
The Mekong flows north to south, through six countries in south–east Asia. Many studies have concentrated on fish and fisheries in the Lower Mekong, which has been identified as one of the largest inland fisheries in the world with an incredibly rich diversity of species. In contrast, fish and fisheries in the Upper Mekong (Lancang River) have remained relatively undocumented. In this paper, we synthesized information on freshwater fish biodiversity and fisheries in the Upper Mekong and documented 173 species and subspecies (including 87 endemic species) among 7 orders, 23 families and 100 genera. We divided the Upper Mekong into 17 sub-basins based on Digital Elevation Model (DEM) and then used fish species data to cluster the sub-basins. Four parts (the headwater, the upper reach, the middle reach and the lower reach) and one lake have distinct fish species communities associated with them. There was a linear relationship between fish species (x) and endemic species (y) as y = 0.5464x − 3.2926. Relationship between species number or endemic species number (y) and mean altitude (x) can be described as y = −54.352 ln(x) + 460.79 or y = −30.381 ln(x) + 253.85, respectively. Fisheries kept as about 6,000 t from 1989 to 1998, and then steadily increased to 10,000 t in 2004. We reviewed the overall threats to the Upper Mekong fish and fisheries, and found that hydrological alteration is the largest threat in the basin, followed by over fishing and the introduction of exotic species. In terms of specific river sections, water pollution was the most serious threat to fishes in the upper reach of the Upper Mekong, whilst migratory fishes in the lower reach of the Upper Mekong are seriously threatened by the construction of cascade dams. The Buyuan River and the Nanla River were identified as important feeding and spawning habitats for upstream migrant species and should be considered as a priority for conservation.