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Fly Fishing as an Ecotourism Model for the Mekong River Delta: Sustainable or Insane?

Fly Fishing as an Ecotourism Model for the Mekong River Delta: Sustainable or Insane? By Ada Montague

Fisherman_UMinh_NP_910Ecotourism is a form of travel that seeks to improve environmental awareness, foster cultural respect, and benefit the economic development of local communities.  When done properly it can protect fragile ecosystems while providing a high quality tourism experience that generates revenue with minimal negative impacts to the environment.

VietnamBoatsThe Mekong Delta is something like a mecca for fishing in Vietnam, with one of the world’s largest and most productive inland fisheries.  The Delta is responsible for 70% of Vietnam’s annual fish production.  However, threats from sea level rise, climate change, overfishing and pollution increasingly imperil fish species as well as critical habitat areas.  (Read More Here)  Part of the problem is a lack of funding.  In order to clean up the Delta, protect threatened species, and increase its overall value in the eyes of the world new reliable sources of revenue are necessary.

VietnamManWithHookFly fishing is an ancient sport, dating back to the end of the 2nd Century in Rome.  The sport has slowly moved across the globe to become popular in many areas.  It is something like a religion in Montana alone.  The art of tying flies from bits of fur and feathers to create life-like fake bait distinguishes this form of fishing from other live bait styles.  It is also known for its conservation ethic of “catch-and-release,” which is used to prevent target species from disappearing from a particular river.  Furthermore, fly fishing is big business.  In 2012, fly fishing shops around the United States generated $748.6 million in sales, according to the American Fly Fishing Trade Association.

Could fly fishing be a potential ecotourism model for the Mekong River Delta?


  • The Mekong Delta is an extraordinary place that attracts international tourism.  It is considered one of the must-see places of the world, boasting many cultural and natural attractions.
  • The Mekong Delta has a long history of boat-based travel.  The design of these boats is ideal for fishing the Mekong’s waters and lends itself well to fly fishing.
  • The Mekong Delta is known for is wide array of fish species.  Many of these fish species are subject to overfishing and habitat loss and need protection.
  • Certain species of fish, such as snake head and the Asian Awrana, may attract sport fishing.




Asian Awrana:



  • “Pleasure fishing” at Minh Thuong National Park generates 30% of the park’s funding (anglers bring in ~$250/day for the park), allowing further research and conservation efforts to be completed.
  • Fly Fishing as an ecotourism model has already been a success in Thailand and Cambodia, where fishermen are paid not to overfish particular bodies of water.  In addition, visiting sport fishermen pay a rod fee. (Read More Here)Fisherman_UMinh_NP_962


  • The Mekong Delta is a silted water body situated at the mouth of the Mekong River as it exits into the South China Sea.  With low visibility, anglers may find these waters difficult to fish.
  • Poor water quality and sanitation in general may deter fly fishermen used to pristine mountain streams.


  • There are limited “sport fish” to catch in the Delta, with the majority of large fish being catfish or other bottom feeding species.   A majority of the aquatic species include a large variety of life forms other than fish.


In conclusion, the biodiversity of the Mekong Delta is at risk.  Sea level rise and climate change may top the list, but overfishing, pollution, upstream dams, and a lack of funding all rank a close second.  Fly fishing or other forms of sustainable recreational fishing may provide a reliable alternative funding source that meets the dual goals of ecotourism: generate revenue while treading lightly on a threatened ecosystem.  Furthermore, exploring such an option does not appear to be very difficult due to the already boat-based, fishing culture of the Delta.  From a preliminary glance, the concept of fly fishing as an ecotourism model appears to be at least an option worth further exploring.

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