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Keywords:

  • climate change;
  • dams;
  • flow alteration;
  • Mekong;
  • overfishing;
  • Yangtze

This review compares and contrasts the environmental changes that have influenced, or will influence, fishes and fisheries in the Yangtze and Mekong Rivers. These two rivers have been chosen because they differ markedly in the type and intensity of prevailing threats. The Mekong is relatively pristine, whereas the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze is the world's largest dam representing the apotheosis of environmental alteration of Asian rivers thus far. Moreover, it is situated at the foot of a planned cascade of at least 12 new dams on the upper Yangtze. Anthropogenic effects of dams and pollution of Yangtze fishes will be exacerbated by plans to divert water northwards along three transfer routes, in part to supplement the flow of the Yellow River. Adaptation to climate change will undoubtedly stimulate more dam construction and flow regulation, potentially causing perfect storm conditions for fishes in the Yangtze. China has already built dams along the upper course of the Mekong, and there are plans for as many as 11 mainstream dams in People's Democratic Republic (Laos) and Cambodia in the lower Mekong Basin. If built, they could have profound consequences for biodiversity, fisheries and human livelihoods, and such concerns have stalled dam construction. Potential effects of dams proposed for other rivers (such as Nujiang–Salween) are also cause for concern. Conservation or restoration measures to sustain some semblance of the rich fish biodiversity of Asian rivers can be identified, but their implementation may prove problematic in a context of increasing Anthropocene alteration of these ecosystems.