ILWS - Charles Sturt University
ILWS - Charles Sturt University

Quantifying biophysical and community impacts of improved fish passage in Lao PDR and Myanmar. (2016-2021)


Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) & USAID, $2.6M (initial funding of $1.8M plus an additional $800,000 in 2018)


Dr Lee Baumgartner, Garry Thorncraft (National University of Laos), Dr Oudom Phonekhampheng (National University of Laos), Douangkham Singhanouvong (Living Aquatic Resources Research Centre), Dr Beth Cooper (UniSA),Tim Marsden (Australasian Fish Passage Services), Dr Nathan Ning, Dr Ana Horta & Dr John Conallin

Research Theme

Sustainable Development (International)


Fishway project in Pak Peung village, LaoPDRA recent increase in water development projects throughout the Lower Mekong Basin threatens the long-term sustainability of productive capture fisheries. Capture fisheries are important as they are often the main source of protein and cash income for river communities. Rice is equally important and is actively farmed in throughout the Lower Mekong Basin. Most rice production occurs on floodplains because they contain fertile and productive soil. Floodplains are consequently being extensively developed with flood control and irrigation systems (regulators/low head barriers) to improve rice production and prevent crop inundation during seasonal flooding. Although it is advantageous for rice growing, this infrastructure blocks important migration pathways for fish seeking access to critical nursery and feeding habitats.

This project's aim is to generate information that will facilitate greater adoption of fishway technology in Mekong countries in order to rehabilitate declining capture fisheries. While previous projects Development of fish passage technology to increase fisheries production on floodplains in the lower Mekong Basin ( demonstrated that fishways can be effective for Mekong species, riparian agency staff and international scientists advised of the need to demonstrate and quantify impact thereby providing the scientific conservation and economic evidence required to conclusively substantiate broad-scale fisheries recovery.

The project has four broad objectives:

1: To evaluate colonisation of riverine species in seasonal wetlands
2: Quantify whether there is an annual increase in capture fishery production at sites where fishways have been constructed
3: Quantify, in social and economic terms, the options for constructing fishways at riverine infrastructure
4: To promote the uptake of project outputs

In 2018 the project received additional funding from ACIAR and USAID to scale-out the existing work in Laos to include four additional countries of the Lower Mekong Basin - Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. ILWS, together with the United States Department of Interior, will partner with agencies in each country to prioritise fish migration barriers for mitigation, construct a demonstration fishway in each country, and then research how well fish passage has been restored. The additional funding will provide for extensive GIS-based work in each country to determine the proportion of tributary streams being blocked by irrigation infrastructure which impacts on fish migration and productivity.


Thorncraft, G., Baumgartner, L., Mallen-Cooper, M., Thew, P., Conallin, J., Phonekhampheng, O., Phommavong, T., Robinson, W. & Vorsane, P. (2020). Houay Mak Hiew Fishway: Concept design report. Charles Sturt University and National University of Laos

Cooper, B., Crase, L. & Baumgartner, L.J. (2019) Estimating benefits and costs: a case of fish passages in Lao PDR and the development of the Lower Mekong Fishway Support Tool. Marine and Freshwater Research.

Conallin, J.C., Baumgartner, L.J., Lunn, Z., Akester, M., Win, N., Tun, N.N., Nyunt, M.M.M., Swe, A, M., Chan, N., Cowx, I. G. (2019) Migratory fishes in Myanmar rivers and wetlands: challenges for sustainable development between irrigation water control infrastructure and sustainable inland capture fisheries. Marine and Freshwater Research.

Baumgartner, L., Roy, M., Techasarin, K. (2019) Lower Mekong Fish Passage Initiative: Masterclass in Fish Passage Engineering Design, Construction, Ecology and Monitoring.  Report prepared for the Crawford Fund.

Colotelo, A.H.,  Mueller, R.P., Harnish, R.A., Martinez, T., Phommavong, K., Phommachanh, K., Thorncraft, G., Baumgartner, L.J.,  Hubbard, J. M., Rhode, B.M. & Deng, Z.D. (2018) Injury and mortality of two Mekong species exposed to turbulent shear forces. Marine and Freshwater Research, 69: 1945-1953

Gregory, R., Funge-Smith, S.J. & Baumgartner, L. (2018) An ecosystem approach to promote the integration and coexistence of fisheries within irrigation systems. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Circular No.1169. FAO, Rome. Licence: CC BY‐NC‐SA 3.0 IGO.

The Lower Mekong Fish Passage Conference: Applying Innovation to Secure Fisheries, Nov. 14 - 17, 2016, Vientiane, Laos. (An additional $95,000 was provided by ACIAR to run the regional conference.)

A joint workshop with the US Department of the Interior was held in Thailand, (February 2018) where 60 scientists from Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand received training in how to map fish migration barriers.

(2020) Short fish migration animation movie developed with WWF-Myanmar telling the story about the importance of fish in Myanmar


The expected outcomes of this project are:

  • an understanding of the impact of fishway construction on the fish populations in wetlands
  • better knowledge of sustainable and low-cost fishway options for application in Laos and other countries in the Lower Mekong Basin
  • rigorous relative cost–benefit analysis of fishway construction versus other wetland rehabilitation options
  • a broad community communication strategy and stakeholder analysis to determine key agencies/community

Dr Lee Baumgartner
Charles Sturt University Albury-Wodonga

Feb 2019