Fish highways to maintain fishing income and food sources in South East Asia

Harvesting fish migrations in South-East (SE) Asia has long been an integral part of most rural community's livelihood systems. Fish are a main protein source and trade/barter commodity, as well as being a vital source of micronutrients in diets. But the barrier impacts posed by dam infrastructure on fish migrations can be significant.

The challenge

Many fisheries in South East Asia are currently under threat from the rapid and widespread expansion of  irrigation and hydropower infrastructure.

Large multilateral development banks (including the Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund(IMF)) are investing billions of dollars in a new wave of irrigation infrastructure to construct new systems and refurbish old and failing systems

Although such flood control and irrigation systems are advantageous for rice growing, they block important migration pathways for fish seeking access to critical nursery and feeding habitats.

How this affects communities

Fish are a main protein source and trade/barter commodity,  upon which many people depend for food security and income in South East Asia.

There is a major institutional problem where development banks like ADB and WB implement such programs in isolation from other development agencies and often between their own subprojects. Often the only coordination happens through irrigation departments. Despite these investment programs potentially having significant negative fisheries impacts, there is rarely collaboration between irrigation and fisheries agendas.

Although these infrastructure programs may provide river communities with a more stable income from improved rice yields, they risk losing fishing income and an important source of protein and essential nutrients; leading to loss of key livelihood systems, poorer nutrition and social disruption.

  • Project name: FishTech: Integrating technical fisheries solutions into river development programs across South East Asia, (2020 -2025)
  • Funding: ACIAR $7.413M

Our response

This research project aims to  facilitate greater adoption of effective fish passage technology in Asian countries through improved capacity and governance structures; and to upscale and scale out fish passage implementation efforts.

FishTech is upscaling existing fish passage restoration efforts through the development of policy instruments, institutional capacity building and outreach activities, and the on-ground implementation of demonstration initiatives at high visibility sites across the subregion.

This includes working in partnership with line agencies and development banks, to achieve significant livelihood, climate resilience and food security outcomes across South East Asia.

The goal

There are six key objectives

Objective 1: To understand the motivations of development banks, investors and irrigation agencies for choosing whether or not to include fish passage technology within development projects.

Objective 2: To define institutional capacity needs to enable design and implementation of future fish passage programs and facilitate uplift in fish pass capability.

Objective 3: To fill critical knowledge gaps needed to demonstrate proof of concept to development bank agencies.

Objective 4: To identify policy needs of the partner countries and development banks.

Objective 5: To secure an enabling environment for the integration of fish passage technologies into irrigation investments, through: (i) evidence-based research; (ii) dissemination of research results through awareness raising and demonstration; and (iii) mainstream the experience into (a) standards and specifications; (b) government policy and strategy; and (c) academic and training institutions.

Objective 6: To better integrate Gender Equality, Disability and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) considerations into all aspects of project design and implementation.

Our team

Principal scientist

portrait of Professor Lee Baumgartner
Professor Lee Baumgartner
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Our research team

portrait of Dr Ivor Stuart
Dr Ivor Stuart
Freshwater Fisheries Scientist
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portrait of Dr Nathan Ning
Dr Nathan Ning
Aquatic Ecologist
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portrait of Dr John Conallin
Dr John Conallin
Freshwater Fisheries Scientist
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portrait of Dr Wayne Robinson
Dr Wayne Robinson
Senior Ecologist
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portrait of Dr Jen Bond
Dr Jen Bond
Social Scientist
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Dr Nick Pawsey
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Tim Marsden
Freshwater Fisheries Scientist, Australasian Fish Passage Services
Professor Martin Mallen-Cooper
Ecologist - Fisheries and River Management
Peter Thew
Civil Engineer
portrait of Dr Lala Senevirathna
Dr Lala Senevirathna
Civil Engineer
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Dwi Atminarso
Freshwater Fisheries Scientist
Hannah McPherson
Policy and Governance Expert
Garry Thorncraft
(NUoL) Freshwater Fisheries Scientist, National University of Laos
Chan Aun Tob
International Partnerships, Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute. Local Country Coordinator (Cambodia)
Dr Oudom Phonekhampheng
Vice President, National University of Laos. Local Country Coordinator (Lao PDR)
Dr Arif Wibowo
Research Institute for Freshwater Aquaculture and Fisheries Extension. Local Country Coordinator (Indonesia)

Key research publications

  • Atminarso, D., Baumgartner, L. J., Watts, R. J., Rourke, M. L., Bond, J., & Wibowo, A. (2023). Evidence of fish community fragmentation in a tropical river upstream and downstream of a dam, despite the presence of a fishway. Pac. Conserv. Biol., [PC22035].
  • Marsden, T., Tob, C. A., Hay, S., Battey, N., Mallen-Cooper, M., Thew, P., Conallin, J., & Baumgartner, L. J. (2023). Fishway Concept Design: Sleng Dam, Cambodia.
  • Conallin, J., Tun, N. N., Swe, A. M., Baumgartner, L. J., Lunn, Z., Mallen-Cooper, M., Marsden, T., Ning, N., Robinson, W., Senevirathna, L., & Thew, P. (2023). Using fish swimming ability to refine criteria for fishway construction in Myanmar. Fisheries Research, 262, [106680].,
  • Baumgartner, L. J., Boys, C., Marsden, T., McPherson, J., Ning, N., Phonekhampeng, O., Robinson, W., Singhanouvong, D., Stuart, I., & Thorncraft, G. (2022). A comparison of the effectiveness of three fishway designs for use in a large tropical river system. Abstract from Australian Society for Fish Biology Conference 2022, Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia.
  • Vu, A. V., Baumgartner, L. J., Mallen-Cooper, M., Doran, G., Limburg, K. E., Gillanders, B. M., Thiem, J., Howitt, J., Kewish, C. M., Reinhardt, J., & Cowx, I. G. (2022). Diverse migration tactics of fishes within the large tropical Mekong River system. Fisheries Management and Ecology, 29(5), 708-723.
  • Baumgartner, L. J., Pomorin, K., Poomchaivej, T., Robinson, W., Raeder, M., & Ning, N. (2022). Installing fish detection systems within the Xayaburi Run of River Power Plant. Paper presented at Australian Society for Fish Biology Conference 2022, Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia.
  • Baumgartner, L. J., Marsden, T., Duffy, D., Horta, A., & Ning, N. (2021). Optimizing efforts to restore aquatic ecosystem connectivity requires thinking beyond large dams. Environmental Research Letters, 17(1), [014008].
  • Baumgartner, L. J., Collier, P., Conallin, J., Ning, N., Robinson, W., Cooper, B., Crase, L., Homsombath, K., Singhanouvong, D., Phonekhampeng, O., Thorncraft, G., Win, N., Htun, N., Swe, A. M., Lunn, Z., & Marsden, T. (2021). Quantifying biophysical and community impacts of improved fish passage in Lao PDR and Myanmar. Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).
  • Weatherman, K., Baumgartner, L. J., Wooden, I., Thiem, J., Robinson, W., Thorncraft, G., Pomorin, K., & Ning, N. (2021). Training manual for the JEM of Mekong Mainstream Hydropower Projects: Acoustic tagging. Institute of Land Water and Society.
  • Baumgartner, L. J., Boys, C., Marsden, T., McPherson, J., Ning, N., Phonekhampeng, O., Robinson, W., Singhanouvong, D., Stuart, I. G., & Thorncraft, G. (2020). A cone fishway facilitates lateral migrations of tropical river-floodplain fish communities. Water, 12(2), 1-18. [513].

Our partners

Connect and collaborate

We are looking for researchers, students, funding and partners to help take our research to the next level.