Over the last few decades, the Tonle Sap Great Lake, one of the world’s most productive inland fishing waters and the heart of Cambodian life, has come under threat from illegal fishing practices, medium and large-scale commercial fishing, water pollution, hydropower dams, and deforestation. Tonle Sap is a World Heritage site and has been listed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1997. The surrounding forests and flooding tree areas also play an important role in sustaining this ecological system which supports the livelihoods of over 1.2 million people.
However, pressures from the surrounding human population are threatening the Tonle Sap Environmental degradation can be seen in the pollution caused by daily waste from community households, particularly the 170 flooded villages; and the growth of legal and illegal fishing. Another concern is the hydropower dams in Sesan II which is expected to cause a decline in the quality and quantity of water, threatening fish habitat.
Deforestation, one of the largest ecological threats, is seriously impacting the environmental and destroying fish habitat. Mr. Long Sochet, Head of Coalition of Cambodia Fishers (CCF) said “The flooding forest has been invaded and burned illegally for farming and hunting. We cannot estimate the large area of flooding forest that has been lost”. According to the 2011 State of the World’s Forests report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), between 2000 and 2010, the annual rate of deforestation in Cambodia was approximately 1.3%. In 2011, the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, with the Tonle Sap Authority, set the boundary of flooded forests to cover an area of 675,876 hectares. However, this law was never strictly adopted and enforcement is poor.
In 2011, the Cambodian government disintegrated fishing lots, allowing the fisher folk increased access to the lakes resource. As the result, community fishery production has increased. However, without good management and a strong conservation strategy, these resources will not be sustained. “Lot abolishment may not benefit the community in long term without participatory management” said Mr. Pich Sereywath, Deputy Chief Department of Fishery Community, Fisheries Administration.
In alignment with the Community Fisheries Sub-Decree of Royal Government of Cambodia adopted in 2003, IUCN Cambodia initiated a project called “Strengthening Capacity of Fishing Community in the Tonle Sap to Manage their Natural Resources Sustainably”. The project was designed to improve the capacity of the communities to sustainably manage the fishery resources in their local area.