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Fisheries communities call for help

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

country."

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."

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