The Mekong River is approximately 4,350 km long, and is the 12th longest river in the world and the 7th longest river in Asia. The Mekong River Basin drains 795,000 km2. Originating in the Tibetan Plateau, the Mekong River crosses southern China before passing Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, where the Mekong flows into the South China Sea.


The Mekong River Basin is home to a large variety of ethnic groups. Millions of people are heavily dependent on Mekong Basin fisheries for food and income. No wonder the Mekong River Basin supports the most important fresh-water fisheries in the world, with an estimated annual fish production in the basin of between 2.3 and 3 million tonnes annually. The freshwater environments of the Mekong River Basin support well over 500 species of fish, making the Mekong one of the most biodiverse rivers in the world.


Quick Facts


Drainage Area: 795,000 km2. The Mekong Basin is home to the Mekong River, a large transboundary river with approximate length of 4350 km.

Population: 60+ million people live in the Mekong Basin

JurisdictionBorders six countries: China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Mouth is at the South China Sea. The four downstream counties have formed the Mekong River commission.


  • The Mekong basin has 20,000 species of plants, 1200 species of birds, 800 species of reptiles and amphibians and 430 mammal species. There are an estimated 850 fish species found in the Mekong system (possibly more).
  • Seasons are separated into wet and dry season. The wet season is characterized by intense rain and monsoons.


  • Themost significant threat to basin ecology is the number of large and small-scale dams that have been and continue to be built on the Mekong.
  • Deforestation has also contributed to a loss of biodiversity across the region.

The Tracking Changes Project funded by SSHRC is working primarily with ethnic Lao people living in northeastern Thailand (particularly Ubon Ratchathani Province), southern Laos (particularly Champasak Province) and northeastern Cambodia (particularly Stung Treng Province) to investigate wild fish, fish migrations, and associated capture fisheries.


The work in the Mekong River Basin is being primarily coordinated by Dr. Ian Baird from the Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA ( and Dr. Kanokwan Manorom from the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Ubon Ratchathani University, Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand. A number of graduate students are expected to work on the project.


The research in the Mekong River Basin is initially focusing on collaborative research involving local people and local researchers in order to investigation how intimate knowledge about fish and fish migrations is disseminated through social networks that extend over space, including crossing national borders. We are also studying the dissemination of fish related knowledge between people, and across generations.


Kanokwan Manoram

Ubon Ratchathani University

Ian Baird

University of Wisconsin – Madison
Graduate Students

Wanapa Wongpinit

M.A. Candidate in Sociology at the Ubon Ratchathani University

Dr. Kanokwan Manorom – Supervisor


Gender and Indigenous Knowledge on Fisheries in the Mun River and Si Phan Don in Southern Laos

The study focuses on gender and fishery knowledge along the Mun River, wetland areas, and Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands) in southern Laos. Many scholars have addressed that fishing activities in the areas are very crucial for local livelihoods. Males and females have different knowledge on fishing, depending on their roles ecological systems, development activities and policies of water resource management.

Sirasak Gaja-svasti (Toe)

M.A. Candidate in Sociology at the Ubon Ratchathani University, Thailand

Dr. Kanokwan Manorom – Supervisor


Fish Consumption in the Context of Community Change in the Tributaries of the Mun River

Phongthep Bukla

M.A. Candidate in Sociology at the Ubon Ratchathani University, Thailand

Kanokwan Manorom – Supervisor


Fishery Resources and Knowledge Management Through Empowerment of Local Wisdom in the Mun and Mekong Rivers

From the Mekong source to its delta, the river travels 4,909km. Along the Mekong, local communities utilize the river in different ways; it is a source of life, providing food, transportation, and security of life. There are over 60 million people who directly depend on its rich natural resources. The lower basin is the most productive fresh-water fishery in the world. Along the Thai-Lao-Cambodia border, complex ecosystems, including those centered on rapids, whirlpools, beaches, and tributaries, are the important fishing grounds for local communities. This research focuses on fishery resources and knowledge management, and how to empower local wisdom. Research sites cover the Pak Mun Dam in Thailand, Donsahong Dam in Southern Laos, and Tonlesap areas in Cambodia.

Carrie Oloriz

M.Sc. Student in Environmental Management at the Royal Roads University

Stol’o First Nations / Ubon Ratchathani University

Brenda Parlee – Supervisor


Local Fishers Knowledge in Governance in the Lower Mekong and Fraser Basins

The goal of this proposed project to learn more about the role of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and management practices in decision-making about the sustainability of fish and fishing livelihoods in the Lower Mekong and Fraser Basins. The two specific objectives are to determine: a) what and how TEK is being systematically generated about culturally valued fish species that are currently ‘endangered’ (e.g., Giant Catfish Panasianodon gigas ‘pla buek’), and b) how this knowledge is influencing governance of fish and fishing livelihoods at different scales. Oloriz hopes to learn from local fishers, leaders and government representatives about different aspects of Traditional Knowledge and its potential role in governance. Most importantly, she would like to contribute to the sustainability of local ecosystems, fishing practices and livelihoods.

Amabel d’Souza

M.Sc. Student in Risk and Community Resilience at the University of Alberta (2015-2019)

Collaboration with: Treaty 8 Tribal Association / Ubon Ratchathani University

Brenda Parlee – Supervisor


Diversification of Livelihoods in a Region Impacted by Hydroelectric Development: A Case Study in the Lower Mekong (Mun River/Sebok River)

Local people living along The Mun River and its tributaries, such as the Sebok River, hold a deep connection to the fresh water ecosystem and have longstanding traditional practices that are critical to their fishing livelihoods. These traditions and practices have been passed down over many generations and are based on well-developed local knowledge of their environment and communities. However due to the rapid development of hydropower in the Mekong Basin, fishing livelihoods are becoming increasingly complicated by environmental impacts to aquatic ecosystems. Many households and communities are thus diversifying their livelihoods to survive. This thesis explores how local villagers in fishing communities on the Mun River and its tributary, the Sebok River, in Thailand, diversify their livelihoods and show resilience to the effects of hydroelectric development. Semi-structured interviews were conducted in nine villages to collect themes and opinions on the operation of the Pak Mun Dam, a controversial dam located near the confluence of the Mekong and Mun Rivers, and its effects on communities over the past twenty-five years. Emerging themes from the interviews showcase the importance of fish and fishing livelihood, culture, diversifications, community and connection to land. These themes relate to existing theory and demonstrate the importance of Traditional Knowledge, resilience and well-being. The information presented in this thesis also showcases how Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) can be utilized towards community-based resource management and community involvement in decision-making regarding hydroelectric development.