A recent workshop on community fisheries has revealed a lack of effective regulations and a gap between what local authorities and fishing communities expect from the process.
Hor Sam Ath, a local representative from Battambang province and one of 160 participants at the workshop in Kampong Cham, complained that some local authorities are not only unwilling to cooperate with villages in creating fisheries communities, but in some cases they actually encourage villagers not to join, claiming that membership would only benefit a small number of people.
"People in my village were told that if they joined the [community fisheries] group, it would show they likely were members of cooperatives during the time of Pol Pot," he said.
The word sakhakor, which means 'cooperative' in Khmer, was common currency under the Khmer Rouge, and is associated with a time of suffering, he said.
Mak Sithirith, environment network coordinator at the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said that the concept of community fisheries was still new to many authorities and fisheries officials, who wanted to maintain their control.
"I believe that these people still think that communities cannot manage and preserve fishing resources," said Sithirith. "However, it is important that communities manage their fisheries because it is something that takes place in their area and they are the ones who will benefit."
Nao Thouk, Director of the Fisheries Department, agreed that some local authorities did interrupt the process of creating community fisheries. In some places, he said, commune chiefs prevented people attending the meetings and discussions.
"The local authorities, for example in Patsanday commune of Kampong Thom province, don't want the people to create community fisheries. They want to keep that area for their own benefit," he said.
He added that the process was facing problems since it involved work his staff were unaccustomed to doing and had little experience in. However, he said, a lack of funds to implement the process was also an issue.
Thouk said that 105 community fisheries had been established, even though the relevant sub-decree was yet to be issued by the government. Sam Ath said that the lack of a decree had caused problems in his province: local authorities felt free to ignore steps to create the communities.
Nao Thouk disagreed, saying that the letter from Prime Minister Hun Sen ordering the creation of communities should overcome that.