Local communities take action to safeguard the critically endangered Jullien’s Golden Carp
Jullien’s Golden Carp (Probarbus jullieni) is a large migratory freshwater fish found in the Mekong river basins and its major tributaries in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, Viet Nam, and Malaysia. Classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the survival of this majestic species is under threat due to habitat loss, large-scale agriculture, overfishing, and hydropower dams.
In northeast Thailand, the Community Network in 7 Provinces of the Mekong River Basin (ComNetMekong) has initiated a project aimed at engaging local communities in conserving the carp within a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) located along the Mekong River between Thailand and Lao PDR. Supported by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), this project strives to enhance knowledge about the status of the species, involve stakeholders in strategic conservation action plans, establish fish conservation zones, and raise awareness among local communities, policy makers and other key stakeholders.
Employing a local participatory action research approach, ComNetMekong conducts surveys and studies the behaviour, key habitats, and threats to the species. Surveys have been conducted in three villages – Tad Serm, Nam Pri, and Pak Som. Workshops to gather additional information about the species were organised with various stakeholders including the Department of Fisheries and academics from local universities. By combining local community knowledge with scientific findings, a more comprehensive understanding of the fish species’ status in the target areas can emerge.
The survey results indicate that the carp primarily inhabits the mainstream of large rivers such as the Mekong River, and spawns over sand and gravel substrates during the winter. As it progresses to the juvenile stage, it migrates to the tributary rivers before returning to the deep areas of the river as an adult. Understanding the carp’s life cycle enables local communities to study its key habitats and behaviour, facilitating improved long-term protection and conservation efforts.
Omboon Thipsuna, President of ComNetMekong, emphasises the importance of sustained action by civil society and government to prevent the loss of this species. "Over the past decade, the population of Jullien's Golden Carp has drastically declined in this area. Without sustained action by both civil society and government this species may be lost forever. Preserving large migratory fish species like the carp contributes to maintaining a healthy and biodiverse Mekong River ecosystem that benefits millions of people”.
To address threats to the species and its habitat in the target area, ComNetMekong has collaborated with three communities to establish fish conservation zones. These zones, governed and managed by the local community, aim to prevent illegal fishing and preserve crucial habitat areas for the Jullien’s Golden Carp. ComNetMekong works collaboratively with the local community and the local temple to establish regulations and raise community awareness about the importance of protecting the species, thereby ensuring the long-term sustainability of these fish conservation zones. These efforts aim to secure the long-term conservation of the carp and restore its habitat.
“This project effectively combines local and scientific knowledge, providing policymakers with a deeper understanding of the impact of development projects on the species and its habitat. Local communities now possess more knowledge of the species status and are actively working towards ensuring its long-term survival”, said Pratheep Mekatitam, IUCN National Coordinator in Thailand.
To further enhance the management of the critically endangered fish species, a Sustainable Development Plan for Fisheries in the Mekong Area, B.E. 2023-2027, has been developed by the National Fishery Department. Conserving and restoring the population of the carp is a crucial element of this plan, ensuring that development projects in the Mekong River area consider potential impacts on the species and the livelihoods of local fishery communities.
Looking ahead, ComNetMekong recognises the vital importance of partnerships among local civil society organisations, academic institutes, local communities, and policy makers to achieve successful conservation outcomes. By fostering collaboration among these stakeholders, it becomes possible to safeguard critically endangered species like the Jullien’s Golden Carp, a symbol of the wonderous biodiversity found within the Mekong River.
CEPF empowers non-governmental organizations, Indigenous groups, universities and private enterprises to protect the world’s biodiversity hotspots and help communities thrive. It is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, and the World Bank. In the Indo-Burma Hotspot, it is also supported by the Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies. IUCN serves as CEPF’s Regional Implementation Team in the Indo-Burma Hotspot.