Two years after the Tonle Sap project ended, impacts clear

On December 19-21, 2018, we revisited Kampong Phluk, Phlov Touk and Boeung Chhmar, three fishing communities on the Tonle Sap where we established Fish Conservation Areas (FCAs) as part of an EU-funded project that ran from 2013 to 2016. We wanted to see whether the project impacts in terms of fisheries management persisted two years on. 

Mekong Giant Barb catch and release into the FCA at Phlov Touk CFi

We found that physical investments, including the boundary poles, signboards (old, but visible), patrol station (old, but usable), are still fit for purpose. FCA management activities, including regular meetings with commune councils, patrolling, and installation of fish attraction devices (FADs) continue. Local communities still benefit from increased fish catch as a result of the spill-over effect of FCAs, the so called “Golden Pots”. There are more boats and new houses.

A local fish buyer, Mrs. Khat Vorleak from Balot CPA (the local FCA designation) in Boeung Chhmar told us that her sales of high value fish species, diep and ros, increased by 50% from 2017 to 2018. This comes to a total of over 10,000 kg worth 63 million riel or about $15,000. In Kampong Phluk, local fish sellers reported a greater diversity fish species and larger fish since the FCA was established in 2015. Teu Sok, head of the Phlov Touk community fisheries committee said that fish stocks in the FCA have increased with greater species diversity including kes, chhlang, kromam, chhlat, sandaiy and diep.  Species that had disappeared, proma, pra, sandaiy kray, and even the Critically Endangered Mekong Giant Barb, are back. The links between better protection through well managed FCAs and increased fish stocks and improved livelihoods are clear and widely acknowledged.

To help sustain FCA management, in November 2018 we set up a mini trust fund by depositing $5,000 in a local bank account in Boeung Chhmar. This will yield $35/month to finance FCA management, about 50% of what’s needed. The remainder will come from membership fees and other sources. In 2019, we will replicate this sustainable financing model in Phlov Touk and Kampong Phluk.

The government recently issued a circular on water conservation measures as Cambodia will be affected by the El Nino in 2019 as it was in 2016 when an extended drought saw parts of the Tonle Sap dry up and large areas of flooded forest burn down. As part of their preparation, all three FCAs have developed actions plan including adding more FADs, dredging the FCAs to increase water storage, and continuing to protect the FCAs as Golden Pots that serve as fish refugia under extreme weather conditions.

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