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
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
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
"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.