Fishing communities still face problems managing their government-granted fishing grounds due to illegal fishing and confusion over fishing rights, NGOs and fishermen say.
Sim Bunthoeun, an official with the Fisheries Action Coalition Team, a group of NGOs, said Monday fishing communities do not have enough rights to combat illegal fishing in their areas.
He said the fishermen’s committees, the groups assigned to enforce fishing regulations locally, are required to report illegal fishing to local authorities instead of dealing with it themselves.
“Fishermen don’t have enough rights to combat illegal fishing in their communities,” Sim Bunthoeun said.
Fishermen who do not join the local fishermen’s committees usually end up encroaching on the communities’ fishing grounds by using illegal gear, he added.
The fishermen’s committees also don’t have enough clout to effectively oppose commercial fishing, fishermen complained.
An order by Prime Minister Hun Sen in late 2000 made public more than 500,000 hectares of fishing waters that had previously been privately leased. The conversion was aimed at defusing tensions between private lot operators and poor fishermen, who said they were forced off their traditional fishing grounds.
Sim Bunthoeun said some fishing grounds are not clearly demarcated, and some fishing grounds did not satisfy local fishermen. On Dec 15, about 120 fishermen in Kbal Toal floating village on the Tonle Sap lake set fire to the boat housing the local fisheries office. They said they had run out of patience after asking for different fishing grounds for months. They said the fishing areas they were given are overgrown with aquatic vegetation.
Battambang court Prosecutor Yann Yet said four fishermen remain behind bars while an investigating judge studies the case. The four were charged with arson and damaging property.
A subdecree outlining the rights and responsibilities of communities in fisheries management is being drafted and studied.