Fishing disputes in Cambodian waters have continued, despite efforts by the government to fairly divide lots between fishermen, officials said Thursday.
Disputes have declined somewhat compared to years past, but they had not discontinued altogether, said Mak Sothirith, coordinator for the Fisheries Action Coalition Team, or FACT. Disputes usually occur as a result of unclear demarcation of lots between fishing communities and fishing lot operators, he said, which causes confusion among fishermen and accidental encroachment.
“Fishing disputes have slowly declined,” he said, “but it is not yet satisfactory.”
Fishing communities still face problems in managing their waters due to illegal fishing and unclear rights, NGOs and fishermen said.
Fishermen who do not become members of fishing committees usually encroach on community fishing grounds and often use illegal fishing equipment, FACT officials said.
Nao Thuok, director of the Ministry of Agriculture’s fisheries department, argued that fishing disputes have drastically declined because fishermen had been granted fishing grounds by the government.
In late 2000, Prime Minister Hun Sen made public the rights to more than 500,000 hectares of fishing waters that had until then been privately leased to fishermen. The transfer of water rights was meant to diffuse tension between private lot operators and impoverished fishing families.
Those disputes have continued is some places, however. Some of them have turned violent, with guards hired by private companies shooting at the water near fishermen.
On Dec 15 last year, about 120 fishermen in Battambang province’s Kbal Toal floating village set fire to the boat housing the village’s fisheries office. They said at the time they had run out of patience because they had made proposals for a change of fishing lots for months. Four people were arrested and are still being held while the Battambang provincial court investigates.
And still there are disputes over the new concessions, Nao Thuok said. The number of disputes this year was not yet available, he said.