Southeast Asia Studies Seminar Program
The MacMillan Center at Yale University
Nov 7 , 2012

"Large Hydropower Dams, Fish Migrations, Environmental Change, Livelihoods, State Territorialization, and Geopolitics in the Mekong River Basin"
Ian G. Baird, Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison

In recent years the importance of wild-capture inland fisheries in the Mekong River Basin to human livelihoods and food security has become evident, with estimates of fish catches rising from just 357,000 tons in 1991 to over two million tons today, making the Mekong Basin home of the world's most important inland capture fisheries. Increases in fish catch statistics is due to better understandings of the significance of wild-caught fisheries to rural nutrition and livelihoods. Paradoxically, just as Mekong fisheries are gaining recognition, efforts to develop destructive large hydroelectric dams have accelerated. Dams are being planned both on the mainstream Mekong River and on large tributaries, and would block crucial fish migrations, variously alter water quality and hydrological conditions, and impact fish habitat leading to declines in fisheries far from where the dams would be located. Adopting a political ecology approach, I consider crucial geographical issues associated with fisheries and large dam development in the Mekong River Basin. In particular, I assess how national, regional and international politics; state territorialization; and power relations are affecting the geopolitical landscape as it relates to dams and fisheries. I also consider how Mekong dam development is both affecting and is being affected by changing geopolitical positioning in the region and beyond.

Ian G. Baird is an Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Originally from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, he completed his undergraduate and Master degrees at the University of Victoria, and his doctoral studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Professor Baird has been living, working and conducting research in mainland Southeast Asia for most of the last 26 years, particularly in Laos, Thailand and northeastern Cambodia. His research is varied and includes the political ecology of large-scale hydropower dam development and fish and fisheries in the Mekong River Basin, large-scale economic land concessions and acquisitions in Laos and Cambodia, political and military resistance to the Lao PDR government since 1975, and histories of marginal peoples in mainland Southeast Asia, especially the ethnic Brao of southern Laos and northeastern Cambodia, the Hmong from central and northern Laos and Thailand, and the ethnic Lao of southern Laos, northeastern Cambodia and northeastern Thailand.

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