Co-management of Freshwater Biodiversity in the Xe Kong Basin

Geographical location:

Asia/Pacific > Southeast Asia > Lao People's Democratic Republic

A village information board with details of regulation for a freshwater protected area


The Xe Kong River forms one of the largest sub-catchments of the Mekong Basin and flows through three countries; Viet Nam, Lao PDR and Cambodia.

WWF has been working on fisheries co-management as a component of Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM) in the Xe Kong Basin since 2005. The Xe Kong Basin is situated within the Southern Lao Landscape priority of WWF Laos.


The Xe Kong River, and important tributaries such as the Xe Khaman and Xe Pian, encompass a wide range of habitats including high gradient upland habitats with rocky gravel substrates to lowland floodplain meanders with sandy substrate. These diverse habitats support one of the most species diverse and productive fisheries in the Mekong Basin. A taxonomic study organized by WWF in 2009 observed 137 fish species, 6 of which are new to science and another 4 species are potentially new to science pending further study. 20 of the fish species observed are potentially endemic to the Xe Kong drainage. The findings of this field research bring the total number of fish species recorded from the Xe Kong to 166.

The Xe Kong River Basin is of outstanding global importance for biodiversity conservation. It supports populations of several priority species, including Asian giant softshell turtle, Asiatic softshell turtle, giant freshwater stingray, Jullien’s golden carp, green peafowl, white-winged duck and Asian elephant. The Xe Pian national park, including the Xe Pian and Xe Khampho Rivers (tributaries of the Xe Kong), supports some of the most intact lowland forests remaining in Southeast Asia.

The freshwater diversity of the Xe Kong, including fish, mollusks, aquatic insects, crustaceans and turtles, all support important fisheries and are an important component of household food security and economy. Household consumption studies performed by WWF in the Xe Kong reveal the high importance of fish products in local diet. The high consumption of fish by Xe Kong communities is regarded by nutritionists as a key dietary component that provides these people with nutritional elements such as animal protein and fat, which are often lacking in many communities throughout Lao PDR. The recent study by WWF shows that a large majority of households in the Xe Kong rely on fish and other aquatic animals as their main source of animal protein. A loss of fisheries productivity and diversity would lead to community health and nutrition problems as these communities have no other reliable or affordable source of animal protein.

Xe Kong communities understand the importance of healthy fisheries and aquatic biodiversity. Under previous work by WWF in the Xe Kong, over 38 fisheries co-management zones are now established by 31 villages distributed over 400km of river habitat along the Xe Kong, Xe Pian, Xe Khaman and Xe Sou. This work is developing a network of communities from a range of ethnic groups that are engaged in managing fisheries and protecting critical habitats. These fisheries co-management regulations demarcate protected areas in the river to reduce or prohibit fishing in critical habitat. Co-management regulations are endorsed and signed by village authorities and government agencies to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of community and government in natural resource management. Based on WWF experience once a community begins to implement their management plan, other villages request support from the project as they perceive the benefits to livelihoods and biodiversity conservation from establishing a management zone within their village area.

This new phase of the project will allow WWF to continue to develop and extend fisheries co-management arrangements throughout the Xe Kong Basin, strengthening a network of freshwater protected areas from the headwaters down to the floodplains.


1) Improve connectivity of fish migration pathways throughout the Xe Kong Basin.

2) Strong institutional mechanisms are established to support communities in the monitoring and management of freshwater protected areas as key strategy in IRBM.

3) Institutional arrangements are established to support transboundary coordination and cooperation on IRBM.


The project strategy of WWF is to demonstrate to government agencies and policy makers the importance of aquatic biodiversity and healthy river ecosystems to the health and household economy of Xe Kong communities. This will be achieved by the development of freshwater protected areas through the fisheries co-management process. Information generated at village level through the management and monitoring of fisheries will be presented to development planners in a variety of formats such as policy briefs, technical reports, press releases, as well as through project meetings of the Xe Kong Basin Advisory Group and the project steering committee.

At the village level the project serves to facilitate the fisheries co-management process. Co-management is a power sharing arrangement between communities and government agencies. It is recognized as a cost-effective approach in managing natural resources in an institutional setting with limited technical or financial resources. Co-management allows the communities that utilize fisheries the authority to demarcate protected areas and enforce village regulations for these habitats. The drafting of regulations and demarcating of protected areas is facilitated by WWF to ensure that communities agree on management objectives, regulations and penalties, and to assist in linking the outcomes of a single protected area to policy and development planning at the District, Provincial and National level.


To date WWF and partners have established 38 freshwater protected areas in the Xe Kong Basin. These protected areas are distributed over 400km of river, providing refuge habitat for both sedentary and migratory fish species.