The first fishing lot system was implemented in 1863 after the establishment of the
French Protectorate. Concessions were allocated to lot-holders, who paid government
taxes. This system collapsed in 1884 because of peasant rebellions against the usurping
of their aquatic commons.
The French reformed the system in 1908 and tried to take into account the needs of
the peasantry by allocating 7 percent of total concession grounds to local villages.
The French reforms included establishing the fishing season, creating fish sanctuaries,
restricting certain types of fishing gear, and establishing a fisheries research
Concession revenues were an important source of government revenue, and were used
to finance the construction of roads and bridges, whereas fishing by villagers was
at subsistence level and raised negligible surplus for the government.
After independence a Fisheries Law was promulgated in 1956. Conflicts over the lot
system soon resurfaced between villagers and lot beneficiaries.
In 1973 the Lon Nol government banned fishing lots. When the Khmer Rouge came to
power most fishing stopped, fishing villages were moved, and attempts were made to
turn wetlands into rice fields.
Fishing was revived after the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. The Soviet-supported
People's Republic of Kampuchea allocated fishing lots to groups of fisher families
in keeping with the spirit of socialism. Concession taxes were paid in kind, a portion
of the catch going to the government.
With the end of Soviet financial support in the 1980s, the government promulgated
the Fisheries Management and Administration Law 33 in 1987, largely modeled on the
Fishery Law of 1956. The lot system re-emerged to fund government expenditure and
satisfy a political patronage system. With it came renewed tension between a minority
who gained considerable control over fishing resources and peasant villagers who
began to lose access to fishing grounds.
The government divided fishing resources into three categories: Large-scale fishing
(also called industrial fishing), middle-scale, and small-scale (also called family
fishing) primarily using single long lines and small nets.
While fish stocks remained plentiful, lot-holders and villagers could often accommodate
each other, but during the 1990s lot-holders aggressively consolidated control over
vast areas and stopped small-scale fishers from accessing public fishing areas adjacent
to their lots. Employees of lot-holders and fishing officials destroyed and confiscated
villagers' fishing nets and livestock.
Wealth accrued to a small number of people. For example, about 80 percent of the
dry-season Tonle Sap lakeshore fell under the control of 18 fishing lots.
In 1999, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a proclamation on what he termed "anarchy
in fisheries." One year later, he announced the release of 8000 hectares of
fishing lots to local communities. He also promised to remove corrupt officers who
did not support the people's cause.
Recently, sub-decrees have been issued to formalize the release of fishing lots and
setting up of community fisheries.