A forum to discuss the problems encountered at community fisheries in the northern
province of Stung Treng heard a familiar litany of illegal fishing and insufficient
support from the authorities for the local fishermen.
The half-day discussion was held late last month at Koh Sneng, 20 kilometers north
of Stung Treng provincial town. Koh Sneng is one of only three areas in Cambodia
to be protected under the international wetlands agreement known as Ramsar.
More than 200 villagers took part along with government officials to discuss experiences,
improve their understanding of how the community fisheries concept is meant to work,
and talk about measures to protect fish species in the Upper Mekong, which is an
important spawning ground.
Organizer Sous Sivutha, who works for the Culture and Environment Preservation Association
(CEPA), said the idea was to build up a close relationship between villagers, fisheries
officials and others to conserve stocks.
"We want villagers and government officials to be closer and to work more effectively
at preserving these fish," said Sivutha. "This event also represents a
good opportunity to clear up the many uncertainties."
Fish are an essential source of protein for most Cambodians. The government handed
over control of some fisheries to local communities more than a year ago. Prior to
that most fisheries were run by rich businessmen. However the process has been marred
by numerous problems.
CEPA has helped establish nine communities in the Upper Mekong since 2000 and hopes
to set up another eight this year. Until now, though, none has been officially recognized
by the provincial fisheries office.
Kong Vuthy, representative of the O'Svay fisheries community, said the lack of support
meant the fisheries by-law had not been implemented, which had put stocks in jeopardy.
"We need support from the government as well," said Vuthy. "We conserve
the parent fish here not only for ourselves, but for the people in the rest of the
Mao Chan Samon, head of Stung Treng fisheries, said his office would support the
by-law provided it was in accordance with fisheries law.
"We must cooperate with communities and NGOs in helping to conserve the fish,"
he said. "Our staff is so small and Stung Treng has four big rivers, which means
we are relying on the people to be our eyes and nose."