Here is a timeline for the development of the fishing lot system from Touch Seangtana, a consultant for the Department of Fisheries:
1864 – French advisers to King Norodom first suggest the potential of the Tonle Sap. At the time, Thais control Battambang and Siem Reap provinces. The King calls on Cambodians to take advantage of rich fishing grounds. But the country is not densely populated, and most people can catch all the fish they want along the shore without going out into the Tonle Sap. Ethnic Chinese do see the commercial value and begin establishing themselves in Pursat, Kompong Thom and Kompong Chhnang provinces. Vietnamese are hired as laborers and also begin establishing themselves along Tonle Sap.
1870s and 1880s – Several rebellions against increasing French influence. King collects payments for fishing rights directly from Chinese and pays share to French.
1884 – 1889 – First breakup of Chinese monopolies, allowing local people more access to fishing grounds.
1889 – 1898 – French begin asserting more control, and start collecting payments for fishing rights directly.
1898 – First limiting of fishing to specific seasons. French also declare that lot markers cannot be obstacles to navigation.
1900 – First formal auction of fishing lots. Chinese continue to dominate. “No statistics were kept, so nobody knows how many fish were shipped out of Cambodia,” Touch Seangtana remarks. “Of course, you could say the same thing today.”
1907 – Treaty with Thailand returns Battambang and Siem Reap provinces to Cambodia.
1919 – 1921 – Mapping system begins to develop.
1921 – 1926 – Invention of new traps leads to overfishing. Gear regulations developed.
1936 – 1940 – Another period of overfishing before World War II.
1941 – Thailand declares war on France after Japanese sweep through Indochina. Thais again control Battambang and Siem Reap provinces until 1947.
1953 – Cambodia declares independence. Department of Hydrology, Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries is created.
1956 – New law divides freshwater and marine fisheries, with latter generally regulated by the UN Law of the Sea.
1960 – Fisheries Department becomes a separate entity. Some new equipment is purchased. Training of patrol officers begins, with a heavy emphasis on law enforcement as opposed to environmental protection.
1975 – 1979 – Lot system falls apart during Khmer Rouge regime.
1980s – Hun Sen-led government slowly reinstates the lot system, based on the old laws and regulations. Interestingly, many of the lot owners in Pursat province are from the same families who owned the lots before 1975. In Kompong Chhnang province, most of the lot owners are new families, although there’s still a heavy mix of ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese fishing next to Cambodians.
2000 – Hun Sen orders portions of the big fishing lots to be returned to public fishing status in order to aid local fishermen.