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Table 6: Characteristic Features of Fishing Practices in Freshwater Fisheries, Cambodia.

Family Fishing



Fishing Period

Round the year

October - May

October - May

Source of Fishing Labour and Terms of Employment

Family members.

Family members and co-villagers as partners, and occasional hired workers; income sharing.

Hired workers from non-fishing communes; fixed wages (cash and food) according to skills.

Average Size of Crew




Source: Ahmed, M. and Tana, TS. (1995).
Ahmed and Thana (1995) provide one of the only readily available studies on the socio-economic implications of current fishing practices and conclude the commercial lots are controlled by rich people and their agents (see Table 6). Bidding for fishing lots take place among a limited set of people, sub-leasing of part or whole of the lot is usual practice, the fishing labour force are contracted on fixed wages and mainly come from poorer regions of the country. Commercial fishing activities are less effectively monitored than are subsistence and middle scale fishers and is an example of resource exploitation being carried out by those not directly dependent on the resource, thus being less likely to tend toward sustainable management.

Middle scale and family fishers are increasingly facing limited access and acute competition. Most of the areas along the Lake are either leased out as fishing lots or designated reserves which are off limit for small and middle scale fishers, depriving local farmers of their traditional rights. The remaining open spaces between lots and reserves is insufficient to meet the needs of fishing communities which places communities in a competitive situation with the government and with fishing lot operators, prompting them to violate fish reserves and lot boundaries. With no alternative income earning opportunities, low risks of apprehension and penalties and continuing internal conflicts, regulatory management has become less and less effective. Future direction in Fisheries policy should be toward the redefining of user rights, extension of institutional responsibilities for management towards the fishing community and integration of fisheries management with the overall rural development in the fishing communities.

Currently efforts to increase fish production are being supported by the World Bank (government fish hatcheries, research stations, sanctuary protection and demarcation and canal dredging). NGO’s are supporting fish breeding and extension services, particularly PADEK and South East Asian Outreach. Ongoing and planned Mekong Secretariat studies include Assessment and Management of Freshwater Capture Fisheries, the Bio-Ecological Basis for Fish Production, Response of Fishermen to Environmental and Socio-economic change.

5.5.2 Aquaculture

Due to the abundance of fisheries resources aquaculture has not had to develop in major proportions in the country. Consistent data from the 1980s shows that “cage” production increased in the 1980’s, from 1.8% of inland fisheries production in 1984 to 12.4% in 1992. However, given the limited market for the relatively expensive species of fish, it will take some time for this sector of production to flourish again. Integrated methods of fish farming have great potential in Cambodia, but the current emphasis on production in fisheries policy, not on aquaculture development, is working against the realisation of aquacultures’ full potential. This imbalance needs to be redressed if fisheries are to remain sustainably productive and able to meet the consumption and nutritional needs of population. Aquaculture needs to be a part of an integrated, small scale, low cost and low input system appropriate to the resource capacity of rural communities so that their subsistence requirements can be met. The value of acquaculture is its ability to be integrated with existing livestock and traditional farming systems. This approach is new in Cambodia, and is being supported by the UNICEF Family Food Production, PADEK, South East Asian Outreach in Prey Veng and Kandal respectively and the Asian Institute for Technology in Svay Reing. Aquaculture is expected to play a major role in the future in addressing fish shortages.

5.6 Wetlands

Not only do wetlands play a vital role in maintaining the hydrological regime of the Mekong Tonle Sap basin by providing a natural mechanism of flood control and regulation of water supply, they also form the basis of the agricultural and fisheries system. They are thus of vital importance to the country. The Asian Wetland Bureau considers 20% of Cambodia total area as wetland based on criteria developed in the Ramsar Convention, 5% of which are considered to be amongst Asia’s total area of wetlands considered to be of international importance.

There are three areas of wetland that fall within the Mekong Basin: the Mekong River and its floodplain; the Great Lake and the Tonle Sap floodplain, (making up 80% of the wetlands) and the associated 1.2 million hectares of grasslands and other swampy areas susceptible to flooding. The flooded forest is in turn surrounded by a broad belt of rice paddies, up to 25km wide, which borders on extensive forest and thirdly the Stung Sen, in north east Cambodia.

Forty percent of flooded forest on the Tonle Sap has been destroyed and are currently threatened by several processes including forest clearing for agricultural conversion and for charcoal and fuelwood, diversion of water supplies, degradation of watersheds,16 pollution, hunting and flood control measures all of which have contributed to the loss of fisheries habitat and falls in fish production (Geary 1993). However, there are no detailed statistics to support these trends, nor is there any definitive information on flooded forest loss. Except for a short and simple survey on wetlands carried out in August 1991 by the World Wildlife Fund, the wetlands of Cambodia have not been subject to an inventory or to management. Detailed mapping using 1:25,000 scale aerial photographs is currently underway to provide definite information on the flooded forest cover.

Siltation is reducing the capacity of the Lake as both a producer of fish and as a buffer to wet season flooding (Geary 1993). There is no definitive data as to the extent of or the cause of sedimentation of the lake and its likely implications. The World Bank (1992) gives an estimation of bed aggradation in the lake of 4cm a year, which could lead to the drying up of the lake in 10 years, whereas the Mekong Secretariat (1993) says sedimentation would cause the lakes disappearance in at least 600 years (quoted in UNDP 1994). UNDP on the other hand, concludes that no major changes in the hydro-climatological regime of Cambodia are expected as a result of sediment desposition in the lake. The Mekong Secretariat (1993) argue the cause of sedimentation to be the flood flow of the Mekong as being the main source contributing to the filling of the great lake. Therefore the low magnitude of the Mekong floods in recent years is the main cause of the low water level in the lake and the rapid recession in the dry season. With such levels of uncertainty in the basic hydrological trends and process, management plans are difficult, let alone the difficulties of implementation. Detailed studies are thus needed on the Tonle Sap Mekong river system.

5.6.1 Current Wetland Management

Before 1970 wetlands were under the management of the Forestry Department, but after 1979 they came under the Fisheries Department. Currently they are under the management of the Department of Fisheries, but the Departments of Hydrology and Forestry are also involved. The MoE also has two offices dealing with wetlands: the Water Management Office and the Wetland Office. Protected areas decree includes several wetlands (Tonle Sap and its floodplain as a multiple use area and Kulen, the upper reach of the Stung Sen, as a wildlife sanctuary). As wetland and flooded forest management falls under several Departments coordination is difficult. A lack of a national policy strategy and up to date information, a shortage of institutional capacity and inadequate legislation all operate to work against the sustainable management of wetland resources. In 1992, the Tonle Sap was put on the World Heritage Committtee on the List of World Heritage in Danger. If the Tonle Sap is listed as World Heritage, the Cambodian National Mekong Committee and the Ministry of Energy fear that plans to dam Tonle Sap tributaries will be scuttled.

There are currently fifteen projects aimed to increase the knowledge base of the Tonle Sap system. The representatives from each of the fifteen projects have only just started to coordinate themselves and have formed a Technical Coordination Unit which is sponsored by the Ministry of Environment and UNESCO. One last so called, key project focusing on Tonle Sap protection rather than development, is still in the preliminary stages, a two year $4.5 million study that the Council for the Development of Cambodia (on behalf of six ministries and one government agency) which would coordinate all current studies.

The RGC receives assistance for wetlands through the FAO for a project of conservation of the flooded forest; the Mekong Secretariat through various projects on water management and land use planning; AWB through the various seminars and workshops as well as from the preparation of the accession of Cambodia to the Ramsar Convention; IDRC assistance to Department of Nature Protection and Wildlife Protection Office; IUCN through waterfowl survey (Asian Wetland Bureau is the implementing agency) and the International Crane Foundation through training in wetland management and waterfowl survey.

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