With EU funding, FACT and IUCN have helped the community fisheries (CFi) committee establish a 200-hectare fish conservation area (FCA) in Kampong Phluk. This is the largest and wealthiest of the three pilot sites and has been the most challenging because of its rich fishing grounds, which are considered among the most productive in the Tonle Sap.
As in the other two sites, the main project success has been the decline in illegal fishing and the increase in fish numbers during the high fishing season from January to April. At a focus group meeting in August 2015, the deputy chief of the CFi committee claimed that only 1% of fishing in the FCA is illegal compared to 30% in the commune as a whole. Household debt has also increased but in a sustainable manner because families have more confidence to invest in small businesses and in their ability to pay loans back.
These successes can be attributed to effective protection of the FCA, with two patrols conducted each day during the high fishing season. Costing $5,500, a floating guard station will be placed in the FCA in December to improve protection by making patrolling easier and more comfortable. The CFi committee currently pays for half of the patrol fuel costs, which indicates strong local support. The installation of 200 tree trunks inside the FCA, which act as fish aggregation devices and deter illegal fishing, has also contributed to fish stock recovery. At the August 2015 meeting, the committee said that they were happy with the support they receive from the local Fisheries Administration officials.
The main challenge is ongoing confusion of the CFi committee's over its roles and responsibilities. The committee chief is also the commune chief for Kampong Phluk so he has limited time to perform his committee duties. There is also the potential conflict of interest he faces between his role as committee and commune chief. The chief has unofficially handed over his duties to the deputy chief who is unsure whether he is responsible for protecting the whole commune or just the FCA.
This confusion needs to be addressed in the preparation of the management plan and internal regulations of the FCA. At the August 2015 meeting, there was a call to include in the regulations the stipulation that if the CFi committee chief is not present at a committee meeting, then authority automatically moves to the deputy chief. Another problem for both the committee and the community as a whole has been the behavior of Sou Ching, the company that had monopolized local tourism with none of the profits going back to the community. Fortunately, Prime Minister Hun Sen terminated the contract in August 2015 and the company has left Kampong Phluk.
The CFi committee plans to establish a savings group so that earned income can be invested in the protection of the FCA. The committee also hopes to introduce a membership fee and an annual payment to the savings group from each member. But the main potential for generating income is ecotourism as Kampong Phluk is only 45 minutes from Siem Reap. The committee plans to manage a boat that would take tourists to the FCA to learn about the conservation efforts and make a contribution to the savings group.
By Daniel Chadder (Internship Student from University of East Anglia (UEA), England and EU-NSA Team.