Fishermen say government efforts to redesignate private fishing lots as public fishing
areas are being sabotaged by corrupt provincial officials in the pay of fishing lot
Fishermen in Cambodia compete with lot-owners and authorities for their fair share of the catch.
Prime Minister Hun Sen promised a more equitable distribution of public fishing areas
following his dismissal of Fisheries Department Director Ly Kim Hean and three Siem
Reap provincial fisheries officers on Oct 25, 2000.
But fishermen in both Kampong Cham and Battambang provinces say the Prime Min-ister's
directives that private fishing lots be reduced in size or turned over completely
to public use are being disobeyed at the provincial level.
According to fisherman Koy An of Anlou Ta Ou village in Battambang, where 43 thousand
hectares of private fishing lots were reclassified as public fishing areas by the
Prime Minister, fishing lot owners have yet to comply with Hun Sen's orders.
"We are still prohibited from crossing private fishing lot areas to reach public
areas and areas that are now supposed to be public are still in control of fishing
lot owners," An said. "I have learned that Samdech Hun Sen's policies,
principles and declarations are [ignored] by his lower level officials."
An says that virtually every arm of the military and provincial government are involved
in illegally depriving fishermen from public fishing areas.
"They've even told us that we can't access [a now-public fishing lot area] due
to suspected activities of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters," An said with a laugh.
"But in reality [provincial government and military officials] are catching
and selling the fish for themselves."
Fishermen in Kampong Thom province report similar experiences of officially reallocated
private fishing lot areas remaining in the hands of fishing lot owners.
Tocuh Khon, 50, a fishermen in Kampong Thom's Peam Sina village, said that agreements
reached between fishermen, fishing lot owners and provincial officials regarding
what areas were to be turned over to public use have been violated.
"Fishing lot owners know that areas near villages have plenty of fish while
other areas farther away have very little fish," Khon said.
"What's happened is that fishing lot owners and authorities have turned over
to us only those areas that are far away and without many fish."
Sambour Thboung fishing villager Tang He reports a similar experience with local
authorities. He says the most convenient and productive fishing areas are being retained
by fishing lot owners regardless of whether they are supposed to be opened to public
"They didn't honor the agreement and have given us areas far from our village
near the border with Banteay Meanchey where there is no fish," He said.
Even more galling for He is that many of the areas that have been re-opened for public
use were allegedly former public fishing areas illegally expropriated by fishing
lot owners in recent years.
"They take our fishing areas and then give them back to us," He said. "The
government must carefully check [the reallocation process] to avoid disputes like
these in the future."
Fisheries Department Director Nao Thouk acknowledges there have been problems with
the public redistribution of private fishing lots, but that fishermen themselves
have made unreasonable demands.
"It is difficult to deal with some people. Even when we give them a place to
fish, they still want another place," Thouk said. "We need to educate the
public about this program."
Thouk said the government's commitment to fishery reform could be seen in the sums
of fishing lot annual concession fees - some as high as 130 million riels - it had
sacrificed in order to provide larger fishing areas for the public.
"We need the goodwill of both [fishermen and fishing lot owners]," Thouk
said of his ministry's approach to resolving the situation.