Soc Trang Province has recognized that the near-shore fishery and mangroves is suffering from a loss of species diversity, and this is increasing the vulnerability of coastal communities, who are heavily dependent on mangrove and marine resources, to climate change. The province has implemented numerous programs and regulations to protect and conserve its heavily exploited near-shore fishery.
Much of this effort has been focused on banning the use of illegal fishing gear and raising community awareness of the damage that illegal gear and practice causes. More recent awareness campaigns have also focused on the benefits of refraining from fishing for particular species during their breeding seasons, and setting minimum take sizes for some species (see Fig 1).
However, a recent field visit in Soc Trang suggests that the implementation of these programs continues to be a challenge. While the worst of these practices, like electro-fishing, may have been curbed, unsustainable practice continues to occur in ways that often escape regulation, and poverty continues to ensure that fishers are driven to maximize the returns from their effort. Nô Puôl hamlet, Vinh Tan commune is a remote coastal village in Soc Trang province. Here, most of the people are Khmer and their livelihoods are predominantly based on low-investment farming and fishing. For the fishers, the majority are landless or land-poor with low levels of formal education. Daily, they row and steer their boats to the open sea to drag in whatever they can with fine-filament nets. Amongst their catch are worthless or low value species, and juveniles of shrimp, fish and blue swimming crabs. When they return to land, buyers will meet them. What I observed next was disconcerting. The buyer would selectively go through the catch with the fisher, taking just what was valuable in terms of species and size, and the remaining by-catch which was a large portion was then discarded onto the ground and left to rot (see photo). The fisher explained; “The yield is getting less and less, so we have to collect all of these species and the buyer will then choose the valuable ones. The rest we throw away because they are useless.”
The fisher’s situation suggests that without alternative livelihoods, no amount of awareness raising is going to work to sustain coastal aquatic resources. What is required is an integrated approach that builds in awareness raising and education, together with alternative livelihoods and new ways of exploiting coastal species without exhausting them. The IUCN BCR project is now working with the Soc Trang Department of Capture Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DECAFIREP)and relevant agencies to implement just such a pilot program in a number of poor villages in Cu Lao Dung and Tran De District of Soc Trang Province. The pilot project will include an integrated program of awareness raising, mangrove protection, establishing fish conservation zones, and just as important, training courses on new crop varieties and livestock breeding models for alternative livelihoods. The project will also introduce new ways of doing by helping to establish blue swimming crab seed-banks and other types of seed-banks for poor fisher households which will allow them to exploit high value species in a sustainable way. All together, we hope such an integrated program will assist to build the resilience of this community to on-going climate change.
Mr. Andrew Wyatt - Mekong Delta Programme Manager and Mr. Tang Phuong Gian - Field Coordinator - BCR project