Land encroachment and declining fish catches are affecting the daily lives of fishing communities, Prak Sereyvath, the director of the Cambodian Institute for Research and Rural Development (CIRD), said on Wednesday.
During a stakeholder workshop on Community Fisheries as a Pathway Out of Poverty held in Phnom Penh, Sereyvath said according to joint research between the CIRD and the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), catches have declined by 40 to 50 per cent over the past six or seven years.
“Because the number of fish caught has decreased, it has impacted their daily lives."
“The fishing community faces a number of challenges, such as migration during the offseason to find jobs in cities, other provinces or neighbouring countries to earn money to make a living and buy fishing equipment for the following season,” he said.
During the workshop, AIT professor Dr Kyoko Kusakabe said most fishermen who participated in focus groups raised concerns about the loss of fish breeding grounds.
She blamed illegal clearing of mangrove forests and filling of lakes and streams which are then seized as personal property to expand agricultural land as reasons for this.
Kusakabe said the 14 fishing communities who took part in the focus groups and were interviewed in detail said each community had different potential and varying development strategies.
“The fishing communities in coastal areas and near the Tonle Sap flooded area have more potential than a number of other communities in the Lower Mekong River region."
“In addition, fishermen on the coast and near the Tonle Sap flooded area can earn more supplementary income through eco-tourism programmes and by producing related foodstuffs such as prahok, pha’ak and dried and smoked fish,” Kusakabe said.
Liv Sophal, a member of Kampot province’s Trapaing Sangke fishing community, told The Post during the workshop that coastal mangrove forests and shallow-water fishing areas had been filled to expand farmland.
If local fishing communities do not protest strongly, the issue will persist, he said.
“Currently, our community is worried about the development plans of a Chinese company that has come to study the area. They have a map which overlaps the entire area of my fishing community – without asking or consulting our community first,” Sophal said.
Ly Vuthy, the acting director of the Community Fisheries Department at the Fisheries Administration, said it was normal in a peaceful country that development occurs everywhere.
However, the Trapaing Sangke community fishery is under the direct management of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, he said, so any development project in the area must first receive approval from the relevant ministry.
“We welcome development proposals, but regarding this case in the Trapaing Sangke fishing community, I believe it was an under-researched plan that was not approved by any relevant ministry."
However, he declined to comment on the community’s growing concern regarding proposals to register the area as community land in order to “benefit everyone” and avoid land disputes.