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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Royal decree planned to help community fisheries

Royal decree planned to help community fisheries

The Council of Ministers has announced it will replace the long-awaited draft sub-decree

on community fisheries with a Royal decree that it expects will be passed by early

2003. The delay in passing the legislation has caused numerous problems at fishing

grounds across the country.

"We need to go up to a royal decree because it is stronger, more difficult to

change, it [must be] signed by the King," said Dr Touch Seang Tana, a member

of the economic, social, cultural observation unit of the Council of Ministers (CoM).

"[It is] very urgent, but it has been two years already. We need to push forward."

Fish account for as much as three-quarters of the protein intake of the average citizen.

Two years ago Prime Minister Hun Sen declared the establishment of community fishing

grounds, which returned 56 percent of commercial concessions, or fishing lots, to

communities.

However the law needed to regulate that decision has been bogged down since early

2001: a total of 24 versions of the draft community fisheries sub-decree have already

been written.

Dr Touch said a royal decree was urgently needed so that communities had the power

to manage their resources, and be allowed to fish commercially if they chose to do

so.

"Now the resources are being taken back by local communities, but they have

no idea what to do if there is no royal decree," he said.

Dr Touch said that in early 2001 Hun Sen issued a specific sub-decree stating that

community fishing grounds could only be used for small-scale or subsistence fisheries.

That was also included in recent drafts of the stalled sub-decree, and drew heavy

criticism from NGOs as well as villagers who want the right to fish commercially.

Thay Somony, the acting director of the government's Community Fisheries Development

Office (CFDO), said the royal decree met villagers' needs very effectively, and allowed

commercial fishing by the community in those areas where the members agreed.

"In the royal decree there are two good points that answer the requests of the

NGO society and local villagers," he said. "There is no longer an article

stating about the ethnic groups - everyone can be a member."

That was in reference to a controversial article that described community fisheries

as a group of 'Khmer people', thereby excluding Vietnamese and other ethnic groups.

"The other good point is that the local community members can do commercial

fishing," he said.

Sim Bunthoeun, fisheries advocacy officer at Oxfam America, cautiously welcomed the

royal decree, but said NGOs had not been consulted on it.

"If the Royal decree is more open than the sub-decree I am quite happy,"

he said. "If it is thinking about the rural people I will support it. But I've

not seen it."

NGOs are unlikely to have an opportunity to comment on the decree.

"There is no need to do consultation again ... because [the royal decree] already

includes the previous requests," said CFDO's Somony.

Bunthoeun questioned why the government now wanted to pass the decree before the

draft of the new fisheries law.

"I am still concerned - why is the royal decree a priority because we [still]

have not finished the fisheries law or the sub-decree?" he asked. "The

government said [previously] it didn't want the son to be born before the father."

But the CoM's Dr Touch said the fisheries law would "take a very long time,

maybe five years", and that community reforms could not wait this long.

"The [fisheries] law passes a lot of consultations, many, many consultations,

and they have become lost in the rainforest," he said.

The draft royal decree is currently with the Department of Fisheries, and must be

approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the CoM before

being submitted to the King.

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