After six months working as the chief of the fisheries community in Meanrith village
in Kampong Chhnang province, Pal Khun has found that a lack of participation by villagers
has made his job impossible.
"I no longer bother to crack down on illegal activities," he said. "I
have no support from the villagers, and sometimes those fishing illegally threaten
to kill us."
Khun was appointed local head of the fisheries community six months ago at a selection
ceremony. The villagers were asked to vote, but Khun said it had become apparent
that they knew nothing about it. They told Khun that the fisheries community belonged
only to those few who were committee members.
"When we ask them to come to meetings or to help crack down on illegal activities,
they simply tell us is it not their job," said Khun, repeating the villagers
words, "This job belongs to you."
Fish is an essential source of protein for most Cambodians. Just over a year ago
the government handed control of some fisheries to local communities to manage. Prior
to that, most had been in the hands of rich businessmen. However, the entire process
has been marred by problems throughout its short life.
The newly elected deputy commune chief of Kampong Trolach, Srey Sokhoeun, said the
process would not work unless villagers understood what it entailed and believed
it would benefit them. He said the solution was for NGOs to educate them.
The lack of help, Khun said, had resulted in his team no longer bothering to enforce
the law either. They had not been paid, and did not even get funds for fuel to help
monitor illegal fishing on the lake. Khun suggested that those working in enforcement
should be properly paid, since they were no longer able to provide a living for their
Dr Yang Saing Koma is executive director of Center d'Etude et de Développement
Agricole Cambodgien (CEDAC), which has been running feasibility studies in the district.
He said success required increased awareness and participation from villagers. Selection
of the fisheries community chief and committee members should be done in a transparent
and democratic way. "This process takes time," said Dr Yang. "We cannot
set up community fisheries effectively if the people still don't know what it all