Thai village fish reserve profiled in National Geographic.

A northern Thai village’s decision 20 years ago to protect a stretch of river so that fish could breed safely was profiled by National Geographic to show how local people can successfully restore and protect their environment and natural resources.

“The radical experiment of just 75 households proves that reserves work in freshwater environments too,” the magazine’s website wrote.

The experiment was initiated in 1998 by the people of Na Doi village in Mae Hong Son, a northern Thai province. At the time, villagers saw that their catches in the nearby Ngao River were getting smaller in volume and the size of the fish.

The villagers banded together and took a step that National Geographic characterized as pioneering: they declared a stretch of the river where fish breed off-limits to all fishing.

Because the villagers came up with the idea on their own, they were invested in its success. Ownership was shared by everyone, and so the village sustained its commitment to protecting its resources.

Two decades later, the river is brimming with fish such as carp. And other villages in the area have adopted the idea.

In Na Doi, anyone violating the ban the first time is fined about $17 per fish. In a nearby village, a violator must pay with 12 bottles of whisky and sacrifice a pig to appease the spirits, National Geographic wrote.

“These small, community-based reserves can be a really effective management strategy for sustaining their own resources and conserving fish,” said Aaron Koning, a researcher at the University of Reno, Nevada.

“This is some of the first science to show that this approach is really effective in freshwater, and suggests that we should maybe start applying this as a conservation tool,” he added.

The approach has been used along coastlines, particularly mangrove areas, where fish breed. But it has rarely been tried in rivers or freshwater lakes.

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