Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina has described his vision of ensuring that each of the fisheries communities recognised by the ministry will become sustainable and independent.

“The ministry intends to establish a legal framework that will ensure communities will be responsible for their own fisheries resources, but each community will need to demonstrate that it has sustainable management strategies in place,” he said.

Tina was addressing a June 19 conference on fishing communities and community fish refuges. He explained that the establishment of legal provisions – and the formation of the two kinds of community – are intended to guarantee the sustainability of the Kingdom’s natural fisheries resources.

According to the agriculture ministry, the term “community fish refuges” refers to natural or man-made ponds, lakes or reservoirs which are sustainably managed by a local community for fisheries or aquaculture purposes.

“I have consulted with specialists in this field several times, particularly regarding both the technical and legal aspects. We intend to conduct a study which will examine why yields vary from community to community and from year to year. Our findings are expected to give us a clearer understanding of how we can increase the amount of fisheries products we produce,” he said.

“I want all recognised fisheries communities to be self-owned. We will add legal provisions that will enable ownership, but not until we are satisfied that communities have a detailed understanding of how to manage their resources in a sustainable manner. New community members will be vetted to ensure that they do not intend to exploit the Kingdom’s fisheries resources,” he added.

He detailed how he expected all self-governed communities to work to prevent fisheries crimes, and how they would be responsible for reporting any such offences to the authorities as soon as they become aware of them. This is particularly important while the commercial fishing season is closed, as it allows fish stocks to spawn and replenish themselves.

“As we all know, our fisheries landscape covers around one million hectares. If we protect it during the breeding and spawning season, it will provide us with huge benefits when the commercial season returns,” Tina added.

Chhim Chhoeun, chief of the Kanleng Phe fisheries community in Kok Banteay commune of Kampong Chhnang province’s Rolea Ba’ier district, said he completely supported the vision of providing ownership to fisheries communities, provided the government assisted them with law enforcement.

“In the past 20 years, some fisheries communities had faced many challenges, including when trying to prevent illegal fishing activities. Some community members received threats when they attempted to protect the fisheries. Some have even reported that they do not receive enough support from the authorities to defend the fisheries,” he added.

He explained that the Kanleng Phe fisheries community has 260 members, each of whom understand the value of natural resource protection, and want them to be sustainable, so they can be enjoyed by the next generation. Nevertheless, he claimed that more support, especially from the government, is needed.

A ministry statement explained that its aquaculture development department began conducting community fish refuge evaluations in mid-2022, and had continued in the first half of this year. As the result of its findings, 893 refuges have been formally identified in 23 provinces.

The ministry noted that the fisheries sector made a significant contribution to the Kingdom’s food security and the people’s livelihoods, representing eight to 12 per cent of GDP each year. Fish refuges constituted around 30 per cent of the total.