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Life, Fish and Mangroves

Melissa Marschke

II. Governing a Coveted Resource

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1Fisheries resources contribute significantly toward nutrition, livelihoods and GDP in Cambodia. At the same time, most of the near-shore fisheries are overfished (Pomeroy et al. 2007), both in coastal areas within the Gulf of Thailand (Salayo et al. 2008) and within freshwater areas such as the Tonle Sap lake. These declines have profound implications for tens of thousands of Cambodian households, particularly poorer households, in terms of livelihood opportunities and poverty alleviation. Fisheries governance in this situation is necessary, yet challenging to implement. Policy-makers are aware of persistent fisheries declines, although narratives around the role of small-scale fisheries in terms of poverty alleviation are contested. Some argue that small-scale fisheries are doomed (Bush and Hirsch 2005), that “fishing rhymes with poverty” (Béné 2003) or merely serves as a coping strategy (Allison and Ellis 2001). Others argue that fisheries provide a range of livelihood and developmental values that cannot be replaced (Arthur and Friend 2010), provide an important source of wild food (Greenburg 2010) and serve as a buffer during hard times (Béné et al. 2010). Regardless, diversification beyond fishing or into aquaculture (fish farming) is frequently promoted as a pathway out of poverty (Arthur and Friend 2010).

2Aquaculture, in comparison to capture fisheries, does offer the potential of high returns, even at a household-producer level (Bush et al. 2010), and other countries in Southeast Asia have seen significant rates of aquaculture growth (six percent per year) over the past decade (FAO 2009). Vietnam, for example, is the third-largest aquaculture producer globally (FAO 2009). Aquaculture, however, poses its own set of risks, including boom-bust cycles (Hall 2009), environmental contamination and complicated feed regimes (Phillips and Subasinghe 2008). Rapid aquaculture expansion causes further dilemmas of access, land allocation and coastal management. Households need a certain amount of start-up capital to begin aquaculture, along with a steady stream of buyers wanting their products. Cambodia’s commodity chain for fisheries products is complex, involving multiple fish buyers or middlepersons (Yim and McKenney 2003). These are some of the reasons why aquaculture production remains low in Cambodia for now (six percent of its food fish production stems from aquaculture, mainly in the form of grow-out or small-producer aquaculture in the Tonle Sap lake and Mekong River). As such, shifting toward small-producer aquaculture in many fishing communities may not be a realistic option at this point.

3This begs the question of how to govern the declining fisheries resources that many rural Cambodians continue to depend upon (I focus on fisheries resources, since aquaculture production remains low in Cambodia). This chapter begins by demonstrating the significance of fisheries within the Cambodian context and sketching out several of the key governance challenges for fisheries. I then turn to an exploration of the history of fisheries management, from the French colonial administration through Cambodian independence to the post-Khmer Rouge era. Particular attention is paid to the role of local people in fisheries management, to consider if and how people have been involved in managing their fisheries. This is worth examining in light of recent reforms encouraging local resource governance, including fisheries governance, which were discussed in Chapter 1.


  • 6 This section on fisheries decline is adapted from an article co-written by myself, Robert Arthur a (...)

4In general, fish and other aquatic species are in decline. For example, in the Gulf of Thailand the total biomass in 1995 had declined to less than eight percent of the 1965 estimates (Salayo et al. 2008). In the last fifteen years, biomass has likely further declined, given the amount of activity found in coastal and inland areas. Cambodian fishers themselves report a decline in catch per unit effort (Long et al. 2008) and note that the size and diversity of fish species have significantly decreased in the last fifteen years (Nao and Lieng 2008). As catch per unit effort across Southeast Asia has been declining, the exploitation ratio has increased (Stobutzki et al. 2006). Based on current trends, production from capture fisheries in the Asia-Pacific region is estimated to continue to decline over the next ten to twenty years unless excess capacity is greatly reduced (Sugiyama et al. 2004); this statistic likely holds true for Cambodia as well.

5Fisheries are far easier to exploit than they are to manage for many reasons, including limited scientific knowledge about the resource, the hidden nature of the resource and the economic opportunities that fishing can afford (Berkes et al. 2010b). Fisheries ecosystems are highly variable, and include many species with different life cycles and seasons, often migrating over large distances. From a purely biological perspective, it is difficult to understand natural productivity, and there is much to learn about aquatic life (Arthur et al. 2011). Added to the variability of natural systems are the diverse ways in which people interact with the natural system. People employ different kinds of gear targeting a variety of habitats, with different levels of intensity at different times of the year (Deap et al. 2003). Furthermore, households may rely on the fishery as a buffer, in the sense of family members moving in and out of the fishery, or as a livelihood strategy that enables the accumulation of capital and perhaps modest wealth (Béné et al. 2010). As such, fisheries represent “complex” systems of dynamic, interlinked social and bio-physical elements across a range of scales, characterized by contested values and interests, in which policy decisions are based on limited information (cf. Arthur et al. 2011).

6Yet in spite of this biological complexity and general state of decline, the fisheries sector, along with agriculture (rice, timber and rubber), trade and manufacturing, plays a major role in contributing to Cambodia’s economic growth. The fisheries sector contributes significantly to Cambodia’s GDP, although the numbers do vary (anywhere from 7 to 12 percent); the fisheries sector is Cambodia’s fourth-largest employer, accounting for almost 5 percent of the workforce (FAO 2009; MRC 2009). Fishers are likely fishing down the food web, i.e., shifting landings from longer-living bottom fish to shorter-living invertebrates and planktivorous pelagic fish (Pauly et al. 1998). In other words, fishers increasingly target large quantities of smaller fish. This situation is hypothesized to lead to an initial increase in catch, before transitioning into a phase that is associated with stagnation and decline (Pauly et al. 1998). This cycle helps to explain why money has continued to be made from fisheries resources, even though fishers themselves talk about smaller catch sizes. In this type of scenario, it is possible for production to grow even in the face of oncoming declines.

7In 2008, based on consumption data, Cambodia’s total production of fish grew to 471,000 tonnes, with increases coming from rice field capture and freshwater aquaculture (NSDP 2010). From a regional perspective, the overall production of the Mekong capture fisheries—shared between Cambodia, Vietnam, Lao PDR and Thailand—is said to constitute 2 percent of total global fish production and 17 percent of total global inland fisheries production (Baran et al. 2006; MRC 2009). Fish, whether dried, smoked or eaten fresh, provides an estimated 75 percent of animal protein for rural Cambodians (NSDP 2010). Citizens in other Southeast Asian countries, in comparison, derive an average of 21 percent of their protein from fish (with the exception of Indonesia, where fish is also a main source of protein) (FAO 2009).

8The Mekong River and Tonle Sap lake are the larger, more visible examples of Cambodian water bodies that are (or were, depending on one’s perspective) rich in aquatic resources. Tonle Sap is Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater, floodplain lake (the lake shrinks in the dry season and greatly expands during the rainy season) and gained UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status in 1997. There is also a great diversity and diffusion of small-scale fisheries in ponds, streams and rice fields (Gregory and Guttman 1996), small-scale yet productive upland fisheries (e.g., Degen et al. 2005) and a productive coastal fishery along Cambodia’s 435 km coastal zone (Sugiyama et al. 2004). At this point statistics are only collected on the fishing effort for taxable gear. As such, there are no statistics for either the offshore fishery, which is heavily fished by international fleets, or for those using small-scale gear. Many households are small-scale producers or perhaps may even use what is classified as taxable fishing gear, but are not paying any official taxes (Marschke 2005). Households generally tend to fish in shallow waters that are less than twenty metres deep with boats of less than 33 horsepower.

9Competing claims over land and biotic resources have increased in recent years, as new, often regional industries have sought access and control for aquaculture production, mineral extraction and tourism. At the same time, there has been a depletion of aquatic stocks throughout the Gulf of Thailand and in freshwater areas, an increase in international fleets in Cambodian waters (fishers perceive this, although there are no exact numbers to back these claims) and a squeezing of coastal fishers into near and inshore water areas. For many rural dwellers relying on aquatic resources for their livelihoods, these new patterns of ownership have proven exclusive and inequitable. Yet fisheries are of particular importance to Cambodia’s poor partly due to their nature as common property resources, acting as a component of diversified livelihood strategies and also as a safety net and coping strategy (Béné et al. 2010).


  • 7 This section on fisheries governance challenges is adapted from a working paper co-authored by Dr. (...)

10There are a series of challenges that fishers face: overfishing, biological complexity, and competing claims over land and biotic resources, to name a few. Although fishers can manage some of these challenges themselves, particularly with appropriate policies, many of these challenges do require state or regional intervention. Throughout Southeast Asia fisheries governance is poor, particularly in terms of managing excess capacity and in terms of solving fisheries-related conflicts. In most cases, excess capacity is ignored (large trawlers operating in local waters) and conflicts are not easily resolved. Cambodia, as one of the poorest countries in the region, is no different. To get a better handle on what these two issues mean for small-scale fishers, I examine excess capacity and fisheries-related conflicts each in turn.

Excess Capacity

11Excess capacity has two dimensions: (a) the total quantity of effort being exerted in the fishery, and (b) the ability or effectiveness of fishing vessels and gear to catch fish (Pomeroy et al. 2007; Salayo et al. 2008). In terms of quantity of effort, people migrate and/or live along river areas and coasts relying on fisheries resources as a source of daily sustenance and livelihood. The fishery also serves as a buffer for hard times, enabling people to enter the fishery temporarily (Béné et al. 2010). With current stock declines, small-scale fishers are forced to increase the number of nets or traps that they set and the number of hours they fish. While small-scale fishers do place pressure on the fisheries, perhaps a far greater challenge is offshore trawls and larger-scale vessels. In both cases, a key challenge is how to reduce pressure through the “demodernization” of fishing technologies and through regulating access to fishing resources.

12Management of excess capacity is difficult, partially because of the common pool nature of the fisheries resource in the inshore, near-shore and offshore water areas. While the open access nature of the fishery does have some benefits, in the sense of being a livelihood option that poorer households can move in and out of (Béné et al. 2010), unclear ownership also aggravates competition among fishers. Moreover, the general absence of enforcement of existing fisheries laws and policies has created a situation whereby no one is taking responsibility to do anything but harvest the resource (Siriaksophon et al. 2009). Compounding this situation is the neo-Malthusian narrative around resource decline (Henley 2005), which focuses on population growth and overfishing. This is an example of a “blame the poor” mentality that over-simplifies a complex situation influenced by multiple factors.

13Although small-scale fisheries remain largely unregulated, regional and government authorities are increasingly focused on extending management approaches to the small-scale sector (as touched upon in Chapter 1). Not all management measures, however, are accepted by small-scale fishers. In a study of fishing in Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines, Salayo et al. (2008) showed that area-based protection and banning the use of some gear types were generally accepted management strategies because they are seen as affecting larger-scale fishers. In comparison, seasonal (temporal) restrictions and effort reduction were not accepted largely because they are perceived disproportionately to restrict small-scale fisher’ income generation. Coastal fishers see regulation as being far more pertinent for larger fishing vessels, hinting at the poverty dimension facing many small-scale fishers (Salayo et al. 2008).

14The number of large-scale national and foreign trawls that fish in particularly efficient ways is a major issue. For most Southeast Asian countries, including Cambodia, capacity appears to be increasing (Stobutzki et al. 2006). As with small-scale fishing, the incentive leading to overcapacity is the open access nature of the fishery. National fleets face an open access situation not because of inadequate policies, but rather because boat licencing is poorly enforced and landings, due to the large number of ports, are poorly monitored. A concerted effort at the regional level to consider options for fisheries management is desperately needed, particularly in light of national plans and policies that promote exportation of fisheries products as a way to alleviate poverty.

15For these reasons, Stobutzki et al. (2006) argue that a two-tiered system of instituting or strengthening output controls for industrial fisheries, such as quota and licencing, and strengthening area-based user-group rights for small-scale fisheries may well provide the most promising set of fisheries management solutions. A two-tiered management approach would not absolve small-scale fishers from sustainable use of aquatic resources nor reify any claims that local fishers “know better” (Johnson 2006). The success of output-based management will depend not only on how poverty and alternative livelihoods can be used to reduce fishing capacity but also on the specific importance of fisheries to these communities. Without broader understanding of the meaning and importance of fisheries to fishing communities, policy aimed at steering fisheries to sustainable use will remain ineffective at best and antagonistic at worst.


16Multiple interests compete for the resources that small producers depend upon, including extractive industries (oil and gas exploration, mining of sand), international and national fishing fleets, tourism and dive resorts, and aquaculture development. Most of these activities result in territorial claims, leaving less and less coastline and aquatic space accessible. Although competition for marine resources has existed for decades (Chou 1994; Valencia and Marsh 1986), it is the intensity of competition for marine and aquatic resources that is at the crux of recent tensions. Conflicts may occur within the two-hundred-mile Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) over access to territorial waters (e.g., between Cambodia and Vietnam) or between users of different fishing technologies (Pomeroy et al. 2007). One reason that competition has intensified is the use of industrial fleets that possess a level of power and technology that can “‘vacuum’ or monopolize available fishery resources, taking all living organisms . . . and leaving nothing behind for resident and other smaller-scale fishers” (Pomeroy et al. 2007: 646). Such efficient gear contributes to a general decline in fishing stocks, which in turn exacerbates conflicts for local resource users.

17Rapid transformations can also exacerbate conflicts: Cambodia’s coasts and river bodies are now in the midst of such a rapid transformation. Although conflicts play out at a local level, they occur often as a result of broader-level political economy policies and practices. In the case of extensive sand exploration and extraction found throughout Cambodia’s coasts and rivers, much of this is driven by Singapore’s choice to construct buildings reliant on cheap, resource-intensive concrete structures rather than using other (more expensive) construction techniques involving steel or glass. Market opportunities, rather than a lack of government policy (when enforced, Cambodia has decent policies that limit sand mining) have influenced where sand is dredged (The Economist, 2009). Fishers are affected by sand mining since it disrupts local aquatic habitat and affects catch levels. Other informal policies, such as rapid tourist development in the absence of an environmental impact assessment or other social assessments, can also increase conflicts.

18Access is another issue facing local populations. As claims are made in and around shorelines (i.e., lagoons, mangrove estuaries, rivers, bays, inshore and near-shore areas)—whether from large-scale industry (oil and gas, sand mining), through national agencies creating protected areas and marine protected areas, or by individuals staking claims through the use of particular fixed fishing gear—fewer water areas remain accessible to poorer households. This creates conflicts, which play out in numerous ways, including through the stealing of fishing gear, anger toward those practicing illegal fishing (i.e., electric or blast fishing) and friction between those using different gear types. Social unrest between fishers is real; this unrest is enhanced by general fishing declines, aquatic and coastal exploration and exploitation. Adequate conflict-resolution mechanisms do not exist, and many conflicts cannot be handled at the village level alone (Pomeroy et al. 2007; Nasuchon and Charles 2010). It appears that those with the most “might” are often rather likely to win (i.e., those well-connected individuals and those with bigger boats and more efficient gear).


19What, then, has been the response to these fisheries-related challenges at the national level and within fishing villages? As was mentioned in Chapter 1, fisheries policies have generally focused on policy and legislation that placed restrictions on gear through licences and prohibitions, combined with establishing blanket closed seasons that broadly correspond with breeding and spawning seasons (Arthur et al. 2011). Enforcement of such policies has been highly variable and in most cases ineffective, often causing tensions between state agents and local fishers. This is what helped spark the fisheries reform in 2000, leading to the creation of a unit within the Fisheries Administration to focus on community-based fisheries management and the passing of legislation to support such an approach. Interestingly, this approach appears to be in marked contrast to past fisheries management practices. For this reason, I turn to a historical examination of how Cambodia’s fisheries resources were managed as a way better to assess the potential for community fisheries processes.

20Few scholarly articles examine Cambodian fisheries from a historical perspective (cf. Degen et al. 2000; Sneddon 2007; Bush 2008). Although the French colonial archives for Cambodia, which are partially housed in Aix-en-Province, France (the other section is housed in Hanoi, Vietnam), do contain archival documents from the colonial period (1863–1953), information on fish or fisheries management is limited. In comparison to other sectors such as forestry or agriculture, the fishery is not often referred to except in terms of establishing the parceling and auctioning system found within the Tonle Sap. Most post-colonial documentation from the 1950s and 1960s was destroyed during the Khmer Rouge era (1975–1979) and little was written in relation to fisheries resources during the Vietnamese occupation of the 1980s. What has since been researched and written about this period (1975–1990) tends to focus on the Khmer Rouge genocide or the Vietnamese occupation (Slocomb 2002; Tyner 2008). For these reasons, I do my best at drawing together what is historically known about Cambodia’s fisheries sector, paying particular attention to what was written about local fishers and forms of local management. It may be that I have missed something within the French scholarly tradition, although I have read several works (cf. Chevey and Poulain 1940; Martin 1997).

21The once-abundant aquatic resources found in the Tonle Sap flood-plain lake generated significant revenues for Cambodian royalty, the French Protectorate, and more recently the Fisheries Administration and high-level officials. Cambodian royalty fundraised revenue through issuing fisheries concession leases (Petillot 1911, as cited in Degen et al. 2000). At the same time, French colonizers (1863–1953) recognized the revenue potential of Cambodia’s rich inland fishery. A taxation system was, in part, modelled on Cambodia’s traditional practices: the French Protectorate formalized the fisheries concession arrangements to generate revenue for the colonial administration. By 1910, for example, taxes from the fishery made up one-ninth of the French Protectorate’s annual budget (Degen et al. 2000).

22French colonial policy enabled local leaders to claim common land, land that was once available for all villagers. It appears that what may have been common property was gradually taken over by local or other elites, including land adjacent to critical fishing grounds. Moreover, prime fishing grounds in the Tonle Sap were parceled off for the exclusive use of elites and industry. Fishing rights were auctioned to private bidders to raise revenues; the highest bidder then held exclusive fishing rights over a particular area, with Chinese merchants monopolizing the market. Exclusive concessions for larger-scale fisheries were thereby granted throughout the flood plain for two- to four-year periods. Medium- and small-scale fisheries were essentially open access licences, allowing fishing gear of a certain size to be used in all areas except fishing lots (Bush 2008).

23A significant amount of trade was already taking place within the region by this time (early 1900s). An estimated fifty thousand tonnes per year of fish were exported in the form of dried, salted and fresh fish, along with fish oil and fish paste (Degen et al. 2000). A Fisheries Law was established in 1908. At this point only a few restrictions in terms of fisheries practices were set in place. Documents kept by colonial administrators indicate that stock declines in relation to specific species had already been noted during this period. Regardless, conservation measures were not put in place and fish continued to be a major source of revenue for the colony. This persisted into Cambodia’s independence era (i.e., post-1953). The Cambodian government continued the system of parceling off the Tonle Sap to the highest bidder for exploitation purposes, as written into the 1956 Fisheries Law (Degen et al. 2000). It appears the auctioning of fishing lots in the Tonle Sap remained a major policy thrust of the government throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s.

24Coastal resources, in contrast to the Tonle Sap were never parceled off to generate revenues for the colonial administration or for any post-independence government. This was partly because the majority of Cambodia’s population lived in the flood plains of the Tonle Sap and this was where the state could generate the most revenue. Archival documents mention the trading of marine products throughout the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea during colonial times. During post-colonial times, oral histories relating to fisheries in the 1950s and 1960s suggest that those Cambodians fishing in the coastal areas were small-scale producers. During this period, villagers could sell their catches to buyers from Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore who came into the area to purchase local marine products (Marschke 1999). Unfortunately, little is written about coastal resources during the colonial or post-colonial periods.

25The Khmer Rouge era (1975–1979) is recent enough to piece together a few more aspects in relation to the fisheries sector. Trade, both in the coastal area and in the Tonle Sap floodplain, stopped for the most part by the mid-1970s. Fishing resources were neglected in favour of rice production under the Khmer Rouge. This was, after all, a socialist project gone horribly wrong, where the cities were emptied out and the population was forced into an agrarian existence (Tyner 2008). Fishing that did take place was to supply leading Khmer Rouge cadres in Phnom Penh (Degen et al. 2000) or was caught illegally to augment meagre household food supplies. A few aquatic resources were specifically targeted. For example, there was a high demand for the Irrawaddy dolphin, as the oil contained in the dolphin’s flesh could be used for engine lubricant.

26In the early 1980s the Vietnamese-backed government issued a series of central directives, including organizing villagers into solidarity groups, known in Khmer as krom samaki, for farming and fishing villages. This type of collectivization was rather liberal by Vietnamese standards and adapted to suit the post-Khmer Rouge context (Frings 1997). It was the municipality or commune that “was responsible for the proper functioning of the solidarity teams for increasing the harvest, the core element of the agricultural-based revolutionary society” (Slocomb 2004: 453). However, the state could not enforce compulsory returns, and it appears that solidarity groups also sold to local business people if this is where the advantage lay (Slocomb 2002). Although by the mid-1980s agricultural offices that covered fisheries were found at the provincial level, the Ministry of Agriculture never achieved firm control of resource exploitation in part because of the ongoing war and weak administration (Le Billon 2000; Slocomb 2002). That being said, fish was viewed as a resource that could be further developed for trade with Vietnam, Cambodia’s main trading partner throughout the 1980s (Slocomb 2002).

27By the late 1980s, the government had introduced pragmatic reforms, discarding socialist economic practices in favour of liberal market reforms (Slocomb 2006). At this point, solidarity groups were abandoned and villagers returned to fishing with other household members, or sometimes shared a boat with neighbours. Formerly parceled fishing areas in the Tonle Sap were redemarcated: the government re-established this concession system to raise revenues (this system had only been loosely used to generate state revenues during most of the 1980s). The 1987 Fisheries Law recognized large-scale fishing operations— initiated under French colonial rule—as a major state revenue source and tool to control the fishery. By 1992 the concessions were being auctioned at values ranging from US$ 2,000 to US$ 20,000, depending on the area’s size and location (Bush 2008). Once again, fishing lots in the Tonle Sap were auctioned to the highest bidder, thereby excluding villagers from nearby fishing grounds; once again the coastal area was relatively ignored. As a result, a first-come-first-serve mentality ensued.

28During this period of market liberalization, the fisheries represented a good that the state relied upon for export. Fishing lot owners, in particular, guarded their fishing grounds, and fishers were often unable to cross fishing lot boundaries to access their fishing grounds, or any open water area for that matter. That being said, local people relied on the fishery as a source of protein and, for those living in and around rivers, lakes or the ocean, as a source of income. By the late 1990s, a few fishing lot owners controlled much of the Tonle Sap fishery. This resulted in an enclosure, limiting many people from entering the fishery. In the coastal area, fishers were facing their own challenges: an increasing presence of large, foreign trawls and ever-efficient fishing gear that was affecting aquatic stocks. Since aquatic stocks were decreasing throughout the Gulf of Thailand, it made sense to target Cambodia, with its relatively intact mangrove ecosystem. This was a time when conflicts between fishers using different gear began to increase dramatically (Marschke 1999; 2005).

29As this narrative suggests, not much is known about the fisheries sector in general. Even less is known about if or how Cambodian communities managed their fish and flood forest resources prior to the devastating Khmer Rouge regime, or, for that matter, at any point leading up to the rise in community-based management practices in the late 1990s (that coincides with the proliferation of NGOs and donor interest). Historians like David Chandler argue that little management took place at a local level in any sector (cf. Chandler 1996). This certainly seems consistent with a society that is hierarchical and authoritarian (Bit 1991). The counter-argument to this is to consider the speed at which villages rebuilt their temples post-Khmer Rouge; no doubt this effort took a significant amount of local initiative and control (Legerwood and Vijghen 2002), although some monetary support did come from overseas Khmer.

30A few authors, specifically examining natural resources and local agency, found that local resource practices were likely led by village and higher-level government officials (cf. Martin 1997; Marschke 1999). In the coastal areas of southwestern Cambodia, for example, there appears to have been a system in place for charcoal production whereby charcoal was produced in designated spaces with a recovery period being recognized as necessary to ensure the longer-term sustainability of the mangrove ecosystem (Marschke 1999). This effort was supervised by local government officials. Martin (1997) describes a state-controlled marketing system in the 1960s whereby villagers could do what they liked with their resources so long as they sold their product to a centrally appointed government official. In this system, household harvests were recorded and then money was distributed after the district chief sold the harvest on behalf of households. To draw from another example, monks recall villagers protesting as parts of the flood forest near the village were cleared for watermelon cultivation in the 1940s. Such cutting affected aquatic habitat during the flood season, and after complaining to the district level, watermelon cultivation stopped and reforestation was encouraged. Since then, villagers follow an informal system of forest management, reporting to authorities any illegal cutting or hunting activities (cf. Evans et al. 2004; Marschke 2008).

31As such, it may be fair to suggest that while forms of local resource management can be found in Cambodia, these cases may be far and few between. It does not appear that specific fisheries management activities took place in and around villages, in the sense of limiting gear types, protecting specific breeding habitats or limiting the number of people who could access these areas, with the exception of one case where monks protected fish species in the river near their pagoda (CBNRM LI 2009). Thus, while it is possible that more examples of local fisheries management existed, it also may well have been that protecting forest areas for aquatic habitat was what happened most often. What all this suggests is that there has never been an active interest in fisheries management at the village level per se, rather a general interest in habitat protection and in ensuring access to the fishery.


32Reflecting upon Cambodia’s history is useful for understanding what a novel local resource governance approach has been recently introduced to the fisheries sector, one that is in many ways counter-intuitive to leadership structures (local and national). The emphasis on a form of fisheries management that included local people only came to fruition in the late 1990s. What this historical analysis suggests is that local fishers never took a particularly strong role in fisheries management, and that the state has consistently looked toward the fishery for revenue generation. Equipped with this information, it becomes clear that shifting fisheries management to local levels is not necessarily just, given that there is not a strong precedent for local fisheries management and that multiple actors are vying for aquatic and coastal resources. This chapter, therefore, offers insights into why local resource governance programs may take time to be established, and how fisheries governance remains contested, as will be seen in the chapters that follow.

33Even with significant reforms, fisheries are hard to manage in the best of circumstances; multiple drivers coalesce in and around fishing villages, producing highly complex, uncertain consequences (Pitcher and Lam 2010; Underdal 2010). Governance arrangements need to respond to an ever-changing resource base and “roving bandit” traders (Berkes et al. 2006), in addition to adapting to both the common-pool nature of capture fisheries and the owner-operated nature of small-scale aquaculture (Chuenpagdee et al. 2008). High poverty rates, limited tenure rights for fisheries resources and the general economic growth derived from natural resources (including fish) pose additional challenges for fisheries governance in Cambodia (Cox 2008; Un and So 2009). Finally, dealing with excess capacity and fisheries conflicts is proving to be particularly hard, even with major policy reforms and donor support on these issues.

34There is limited analysis of Cambodian fisheries governance (Sneddon 2007; Bush 2008) and the concrete challenges that fishers are facing in part because of the slow pace of change within the fisheries sector and in Cambodia more generally. What does exist generally fails to account for the socio-political context in which policy experiments are designed (Clement 2010) or to consider the longer-term sustainability of such policy experiments. The subsequent chapters explore fishers’ livelihoods and management and fisheries governance more broadly, drawing on my detailed research from one village and the local fishing grounds that a handful of villages depend upon in southwestern Cambodia.


6 This section on fisheries decline is adapted from an article co-written by myself, Robert Arthur and Richard Friend. See Arthur et al. 2011 for more details.

7 This section on fisheries governance challenges is adapted from a working paper co-authored by Dr. Simon Bush and myself. For more details, see Academic Acknowledgements.

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