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Life, Fish and Mangroves

Melissa Marschke

IV. Villagers Pursuing Local Resource Governance, 1998–2010

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1Cambodia’s emphasis on local governance can be seen as a timely embodiment of the global trend encouraging decentralized resource governance, as a donor and government response to the poverty and marginalization found in many rural areas, or as a foolhardy idea with little chance of success given the reality of rural livelihoods in resource-dependent villages. Nonetheless, hopes became somehow pinned on novel governance arrangements that involve local people living closest to a given resource. When resource governance experiments first began in Cambodia in the 1990s, the focus was on the most pressing resource issues (i.e., land encroachment, logging, aquatic stock declines, poaching of wildlife) facing a given village or commune. Villagers were encouraged to create a resource management plan and elect a resource management committee. Much of this initial effort was financed by the international community and supported by NGO or government-led project teams (Un and So 2009). Prior to the establishment of formal policy, it was only through the support of a provincial governor that forms of local resource governance were likely to be sustained or be successful (Marschke 2005).

2While a dozen or so community-based management experiments took place during the late 1990s (Marschke 2005; Un and So 2009), a serious effort went into creating a policy environment to ensure such involvement was legal, particularly among donors and activists who wanted citizens to gain sufficient rights. Policy mechanisms to enable local resource governance now exist in Cambodia. These policies were mostly designed in a sectoral manner, following the vertical lines of a technical department. For example, the Fisheries Administration, the Forestry Administration and the Ministry of Environment each have legislation that endorses local-level resource management (for fisheries, forestry and natural resources, respectively). Once formal policy was approved, the official endorsement by a provincial governor was no longer required, although a significant amount of “soft” power still exists in this office. There are now over three hundred communities working on forestry issues, 468 on fisheries issues and over fifty on issues within protected areas (CBNRM LI 2009; NSDP 2010). Multiple donors, national NGOs, academics and government departments have supported aspects of this effort.

3The purpose of this chapter is to explore what resource governance can mean at a local level. In a sense, creating a management plan or having a locally elected committee does not say much in terms of how resource governance is being addressed “on the ground,” particularly in a context of general natural resource decline. For these reasons, the experiences found in Koh Sralao are worth paying attention to. Koh Sralao’s resource management committee has been working on resource governance since the late 1990s; this is an area where resource extraction has been rife and where governance reforms are not easy to pursue. This chapter examines the specific activities undertaken by Koh Sralao’s resource management committee and explores if and how these activities are sustained over time. Equally telling are the issues that one might imagine a local resource management committee could handle but does not chose to pursue, such as gear theft and excess capacity. The chapter illustrates how resource governance has been successful in dealing with activities that easily demonstrate success and provides an analysis of why other issues remain a challenge.


  • 13 This research team, which has consisted of staff from Cambodia’s Ministr y of Environment, along w (...)

4Koh Sralao’s resource management committee was established partially in response to the rapid deforestation that took place near Koh Sralao during the 1998 election period (Marschke and Nong 2003) and partially because there was a donor-funded, government-led research team13 interested and willing to work with villagers on resource management issues and a national policy framework that supported this type of approach. This was a logical fit, given that there were no other projects working in the area and people relied on the forest and fish resources for their livelihood (PMCR 2008; Marschke and Sinclair 2009). As discussed in Chapter 3, villagers draw on the natural ressources found in this mangrove-estuary community in multiple ways. The Cambodian government, for the most part, has had limited “hands-on” involvement in this area with the exception of enforcing a ban on logging activities (e.g., cutting logs, exporting logs or making charcoal) in the late 1990s and then supporting commune planning processes in the mid-2000s. As such, if villagers wanted to see the governance of their resources improved, they needed to engage in this issue and decide on activities that they could implement.

5Koh Sralao’s resource management committee, first elected in 2000, consists of seven “movers and shakers.” Strong leadership and local support for this leadership are definitely enabling factors contributing to the committee’s success (Marschke and Sinclair 2009), something that is found in other studies examining when community-based or co-management of fisheries resources may be successful (Gutierrez et al. 2011). This is an important aspect, since there is a growing critique that many resource committees exist on paper but not in practice (Resurreccion 2006). The head of the committee is Sovanna (whom I introduced in Chapter 3), a well-respected business-person in Koh Sralao who sits on a series of village committees and has been elected to sit on the commune council in both sets of elections (2002 and 2007, respectively, although he has since resigned from this role). Moreover, many of the committee were re-elected (five of the seven members in the 2004 re-election; with four original members re-elected in the 2009 election) and have been working on resource management issues for a relatively long period of time. Another important aspect may be the relationships committee members have built over time with technical staff at the provincial and national levels; these are often drawn upon when more serious resource management problems arise in the area.

6This committee serves as an example of what is possible in the arena of local resource governance, even in areas where persistent resource declines exist and daily life can be a challenge. This committee is not likely to be reflective of most resource management committees in Cambodia (Blunt and Turner 2005; Ratner 2006), given the long-term technical support, strong local leadership and decent village-commune relations. The ecological system also may contribute to aspects of the committee’s success; compared with upland areas where trees may take decades to grow, the benefits of mangrove replanting are demonstrated relatively quickly. The main mangrove species, Rizophora spp., mature relatively quickly (in less than a decade) and provide habitat for many different aquatic species within its roots. Ownership at the committee level, and to a certain degree the village level, of the resource governance activities is strong. Over seventy percent of villagers said that they were aware of the work of the resource management committee in a 2008 village survey.


We have done a lot over the years. We have done mangrove replanting, formed internal regulations and shared these with villagers, solved some problems in the village, patrolled to catch and fine illegal fishers, forest cutters and hunters, held monthly meetings, provided environmental education in the primary and junior schools and held village garbage clean-up days.
We are less busy now than we were in the past, although we do meet regularly to discuss any resource-related problems and meet with other villages when there is a big problem in the area. We have re-planted over 500 ha of mangrove trees and continue to re-plant mangroves and work on waste management. We have now transferred some of our other work to the commune council, since we can access a small amount of funds for commune-related resource activities.
In the past two years [2008–2010] I have facilitated several meetings between our three local resource management committees, since we have a problem with sand mining near our fishing grounds. Each committee organized for villagers to thumb-print a petition that we sent to the local authorities asking them to investigate this situation.
—Excerpts from interviews with Sovanna, head of Koh Sralao’s resource management committee, in 2004, 2006 and 2010

7Sovanna is reflecting on what he feels the main activities of the committee have been. His comments illustrate how Koh Sralao’s resource management committee has been involved in various types of activities since the committee was elected in 2000. Such activities include mangrove replanting, dealing with fishing conflicts, patrolling the village area to prevent illegal hunting or fishing practices, setting up a waste management system in the village, working with schoolteachers to develop curriculum related to local ecology and thinking about how to handle sand mining activities. These activities are illustrative of the issues that villagers may be able handle at a local level. Some activities have been more successful than others; certain activities have continued consistently, whereas other activities only took place for a short period of time. Table VI illustrates the range of resource-related activities that committee members have been engaged in between 1998 and 2010. This table also provides an explanation of what an activity actually entails and notes if the activity is still happening.

8As Table VI illustrates, Koh Sralao’s resource management committee has been involved in a series of activities since it began including creating a management plan, signposting protected areas, inputting into policy and being filmed while replanting mangroves to promote Environment Day within Cambodia. Mangrove replanting is at the core of Koh Sralao’s annual resource management work, along with waste management and, at various times, patrolling. This committee has been able to sustain its work over the years, albeit intensifying its activities at certain times and scaling back its activities at other times. There is significant buy-in for resource management in this area; moreover, the committee has been able to modify and integrate a few of its activities into emerging governance mechanisms such as Commune Development Plans, which all communes are required to do annually.

  • 14 Through such study tours and local knowledge exchanges, relationships are built between villages. (...)

9After a series of workshops in the late 1990s facilitated by the government-led research team interested in garnering support for local resource management, a number of villagers ran for election with seven villagers being elected (Marschke 2000). This committee only began their work in earnest after participating in a series of study tours looking at what resource management meant, particularly in other villages dealing with fishing and flood forest issues (Marschke 2000).14 Once the committee bought into the idea of “doing something” at a local level, they began with an extensive environmental education campaign and with patrolling activities to prevent hunting, trawling and dynamite fishing (all illegal activities). With time, the committee expanded its activities to include conservation-type activities, livelihood activities and other village development activities (Marschke and Berkes 2005).

10Over time, committee members have also become more confident and vocal. On several occasions committee members have had a chance to explain their challenges to Koh Kong’s provincial governor and the Minister of Environment, such as discussing the illegal trawling activities that take place in the mangrove estuaries (Marschke and Kim 2003) or by drawing attention to the implications of sand mining on the fishery. In late 2006 members from Koh Sralao’s committee were asked to debate with university students about the pros and cons of shrimp farming. This debate was televised nationally, and committee members shared their experiences with unsustainable shrimp aquaculture and argued in favour of developing small-scale aquaculture as one of a series of fishing strategies that would ensure longer-term survival of the fishery and local livelihoods (N. Kim Dec. 2006 pers. communication).

Table vi: Resource Management Activities, 1998–2010

Table vi: Resource Management Activities, 1998–2010

11This committee now acts in a kind of advisory role for other resource management committees in the area. For example, when a nearby village started its ecotourism activities a few years back, the head of Koh Sralao’s committee was asked to act as an advisor to its resource management committee. Since 2005 this committee has been working with two other resource management committees in the area to facilitate a “bay wide” approach to fisheries management (three villages in this area rely on the same fishing grounds known as Chrouy Pros Bay, further discussed in Chapter 5). The committee has been instrumental in leading the drive toward a fisheries federation. In this role, the committee has led the group toward agreeing upon common regulations and approaches to fisheries management for this fishing ground, and to take similar stances when it comes to petitioning against sand mining or large-scale trawling sometimes found in and around local fishing grounds (PMCR 2008). Although enforcement of community-based regulations can be problematic because of the size of the fishing grounds and the general lack of patrolling support from technical departments, this federation still serves as a useful platform for discussing pertinent resource issues in the area.

12To get a better sense of what it means to be working on a specific activity, the following section examines a few of the activities the Koh Sralao committee has been involved with in greater depth. Patrolling, waste management and mangrove replanting are each examined in turn. Careful attention illustrates how these activities have had ebbs and flows in terms of interest and effectiveness. The most sustained activity, by far, appears to be the mangrove replanting campaign.


13Patrolling for illegal resource extraction activities is one area in which Koh Sralao’s committee has been relatively active, particularly in the early years near the village. During peak times, the committee patrolled the waters surrounding the village eight times per month. These patrols were done to monitor forest-cutting, wildlife-harvesting, fishing with dynamite and trawling in the shallow mangrove estuary waters. When the committee was able to stop offenders, they would issue a fine and, in some cases, confiscate fishing gear or illegally extracted resources such as logs or charcoal.

14The resource management committee can only carry out patrols with a member of a technical department or with the local police. This “forced marriage” can be problematic since technical staff, local police and a management committee may have differing interests in resource management. For example, technical staff either follow the law to the letter or they ignore it, police often ignore the law since money can be made from resource exploitation and a committee is often trying to find solutions to resource challenges through enforcing its own rules, albeit with a certain degree of flexibility. Koh Sralao’s advantage, in terms of patrolling at least, is that it lies within a protected area since the Ministry of Environment supports local park rangers and considers them to be technical staff of the Ministry of Environment within all protected areas. Thus, the committee can patrol with either of the two park rangers that live in Koh Sralao, rather than needing to involve the local police or ask for technical support from the provincial Department of Environment. This is an example of where protection-related interests align, which serves the resource management committee and the park rangers well. With time, the local police also overcame their resistance to patrolling efforts.

15Even with the advantages that committee members have in Koh Sralao, patrolling is not that easy to implement. It requires some serious thought and decision-making. Fishers themselves are constantly monitoring the waterways, reporting on illegal activities to the committee. Illegal activities may not necessarily fall within a patrolling schedule; the committee then needs to decide if they should investigate the claim and mobilize themselves. To do so, committee members need to be available, a boat needs to be found, the police need to be informed and park rangers need to be gathered. More than this, committee members must brace themselves for potential conflicts with those they are trying to stop and apprehend.

16For patrolling to work, repercussions have been established for those that fish illegally. There is a system of fines in place, depending on the gravity of the act. However, imposing a fine is not always that easy since not all situations are predictable. Consider the following quote:

A fisher lost traps on the other side of the estuary [across from the village]. We tried to solve this with the police. The person who stole the traps lived outside the community. We wanted to fine this person but they did not have any money. So, we went to their home and brought back some luggage and some cups since he is a thief. Everyone agreed that this was fair (Dom 2003).

17When poor fishers are caught, extracting a monetary fine can be harsh and unrealistic. As such, creative solutions may be found to ensure that a fine is imposed but in a way that is deemed fair to the situation. Fairness, in such cases, is subjective to the whims of the committee.

18Sometimes it is simply too risky to patrol. It makes little sense (and is nearly impossible) to try to stop someone doing dynamite fishing in a high-powered boat. The committee itself does not have a speedboat to patrol with (initially they used the boat donated to the park rangers, which lasted a few years, and they then turned to using each other’s boats). Gasoline prices also affect the number of patrols that can take place in any given month. As in other places, gasoline prices have been steadily rising. While fines do supplement gasoline prices, there is no guarantee that someone will be apprehended on a patrol and, even if someone is apprehended, that they can necessarily pay the fine. Thus, it has proven difficult to self-finance this system continuously over the years. Although the committee has relied on random inputs from various projects (NGO- and IO-funded/or -supported), collected fees from villagers and chipped in committee members’ own money, this is one activity that has been difficult to sustain.

19Securing funding is one reason the committee stopped actively patrolling, although several other factors are also at play. As will be discussed in the following chapter, concrete artificial reefs were placed in the fishing grounds used by many Koh Sralao fishers in 2006, which led to a significant reduction of illegal trawling in the area. Another factor is that a conservation NGO began actively patrolling the area for wildlife poaching. This, combined with the belief that the committee has a reputation for having strict resource management practices, is part of the justification for stopping consistent patrols. Perhaps, too, committee members were tired of patrolling and felt that this really should be the work of the government rather than themselves. This may be a step toward demanding resource governance from elected commune officials, or perhaps it is a signal that local people have had enough.

Waste Management

20Island-estuary communities do face a significant challenge when it comes to waste management, as there is little land in which to burn or bury waste and these areas are far from government services. Until recently, the “norm” was to throw waste into the water for those houses built over the sea. This is no different than in freshwater fishing communities, where over ninety-five percent of villagers dispose their waste into the river or lake (Isreal et al. 2005). The committee in Koh Sralao has been working to change this. A series of waste management trainings and workshops—initially facilitated by the government-led research team working in the area, then continued by Koh Sralao committee members—have been held since 2000. Both committee members and project staff working in the area have struggled with how to approach this issue. For the first several years, linked into a general environmental education campaign, workshops introduced the importance of waste management for the committee and selected community members. However, people were not dealing with their waste in a consistent manner.

  • 15 The Mangrove Action Project (MAP), based in Thailand, has provided CA$ 8,000 per year since 2005 t (...)

21Only in late 2004 was the committee ready to implement a system of waste management for Koh Sralao, and an NGO was willing to pay for individual garbage bins for each household.15 At this point, committee members had spent enough time educating villagers about the cause and effect of poor waste management. Operationalizing a waste management system involved small user fees, distributing waste bins, widening several bridges over the waterways so that the cart used to collect waste could go over them, agreeing on an area of land by which common waste could be buried and a weekly system of garbage collection. As Sovanna notes:

We have had to learn how to encourage and push community members to pay their monthly waste collection fee. I’ve also noticed that when some households start keeping their household area clean, other households who live around them begin to do so too (Sovanna 2007).

22As a means of encouraging greater participation of community members, quarterly waste management awards are given out for those households that have the cleanest area surrounding their house. Although the system is not perfect (sometimes waste is not collected on time as the waste collector is busy with other livelihood activities), committee members felt that this practice was contributing to a cleaner, healthier village environment. Over time, the committee has helped to create new “norms” in relation to acceptable levels of waste in Koh Sralao. In 2008 the committee was in the process of reviewing the monthly fees that households paid as they planned to increase the fees that small businesses pay for garbage collection and planned to hire another person to collect the waste. By 2010 the committee had a system in place by which businesses paid a different rate than households for waste collection.

Mangrove Replanting

23Mangrove replanting is the most consistent activity that the committee in Koh Sralao supervises: mangrove replanting was done on an annual basis between 2000 and 2008. In the late 1990s, this area experienced a significant decline in mangrove forest cover, fuelled by the growing market for mangrove wood and mangrove charcoal in neighbouring Thailand and lax enforcement by government officials (Marschke 1999). This was curbed when the national Forest Administration clamped down on illegal logging activities, which halted the extensive trade of logs and charcoal with Thailand. Perhaps as a result of this experience (serious tree-cutting and an enforced ban on logging), the committee decided that forest protection and enhancement was an important aspect of their resource management work. This is also an activity that is doable, in the sense that collecting mangrove propagules for replanting can be done in the areas surrounding the village, propagules do not cost anything and the results of this activity can be seen within a year or so (i.e., young mangroves can be seen growing in former shrimp ponds or filling in areas that had been overharvested). In recent years this has been undertaken as a food-for-work project, with an outside individual or organization donating the rice to ensure that everyone in the village immediately benefits from their labour.

24Although there was a low survival rate of mangrove propagules in the first year, in subsequent years better planting techniques and monitoring of seedlings took place. The committee coordinates this annual replanting event and is supported by several long-time residents holding significant local environmental knowledge. This process has fostered an enhanced understanding of the value of mangroves for villagers in Koh Sralao. As one villager commented, “people know not to cut the mangroves as this will destroy our life. Now there are more mangroves, and we can find more snails and crabs” (Koh Sralao villager 2007). Moreover, replanted mangroves provide a buffer against storms and an increased nursery ground for crabs and other aquatic species. As of mid-2008, over 500 ha of mangroves were replanted in the area surrounding Koh Sralao.

25Preliminary analysis of Radarstat satellite imagery suggests that the prevalent decline in mangrove resources that the area faced in the 1990s has been halted with significant regrowth taking place. Most likely this regrowth can be attributed to an active environmental education campaign at the village level, patrolling efforts to ensure natural regeneration and the mangrove replanting effort. It helps that villagers have been recognized provincially and nationally for their work, being televised several times for replanting mangroves on National Environment Day. It is a big deal for a remote mangrove-estuary community to make it onto national television! There is a general sense of pride in mangrove replanting activities, and a significant amount of buy-in to continue this from a social and ecological perspective. For the first time in over a decade, mangrove trees surround the village and mangrove replanting no longer needs to take place on an annual basis.


26As the cases of patrolling near the village, mangrove replanting and designing a waste management system illustrate, certain resource governance issues can be handled at a local level even with limited, patchy funds. Koh Sralao’s committee and community members are involved in specific resource management activities, having taken steps to enhance community life. In many other contexts, municipal governments would take on these issues (i.e., dealing with waste or policing efforts). Koh Sralao’s committee also demonstrates the ability to come together on issues, including being able to discuss challenges with other committees and being able to organize petitions to bring awareness to issues such as illegal trawling or the impacts of sand mining.

27Activities that are cost-effective, demonstrate results and are nonpolitical in nature are easiest to pursue, as demonstrated by the mangrove replanting effort. Mangrove propagules, as an example, can be easily collected and replanted so long as people draw on local knowledge to ensure appropriate siting for the replanted propagules. This activity can be relatively easily organized at a local level. Less cost-effective, more contentious activities will ebb and flow more. While the patrolling committee has had success in apprehending illegal fishing boats near the village, it has proven far riskier to take on larger boats, particularly those from outside the village. There is also a fiscal sustainability issue. Gasoline costs are high: if no one is apprehended, people are out of pocket for patrolling since there is no consistent budget to ensure this activity can take place on a regular basis. Koh Sralao is unique in that it sits within a protected area that grants the committee access to park rangers to help in patrolling. This has spurred things on and patrolling works decently in comparison to other villages (Chapter 5 touches on this). Even so, mechanisms for resolving serious conflicts that arise with patrolling remain weak and financing remains an issue.

28Certainly what has been accomplished by this committee is impressive and well worth applauding. Examples of sustained resource management efforts are few and far between (CBNRM LI 2009) and much can be learned from this experience. However, one also senses the challenges of sustaining this effort and realizes that the governance structures that have been put in place are fragile at best. Conflict resolution mechanisms are weak, linked to a culture that traditionally strives for social harmony (disrupting such harmony is seen as a transgression), a weak judiciary and a system that favours flexible rules to solve conflicts (Un and So 2009; Gellman 2010). While flexibility can sometimes be a good thing, in the sense of encouraging creative problem-solving, it is very problematic in a context whereby those solving the conflict will often favour the actor with the biggest connections and resources. It is tough to encourage conservation and small-scale, managed, resource extraction activities in a context with multiple people vying for natural resources as a means to earn their living and where power dynamics come into play.

29Further, if I reflect upon the stresses affecting villages as were outlined in Chapter 3, I see that there are serious issues that are not addressed by this committee. Some of these issues are simply too big—deals made in the capital city that permit the extraction of significant amounts of sea sand, for example. Yet there are other issues that the committee is not interested to touch or not successful in dealing with. Examples of such challenges include gear theft and dealing with excess capacity, as will be further explored in this chapter.

Gear Theft

My crab traps were stolen two nights ago and I am really upset. I asked the Resource Management Committee and the local police to help me but they refuse to get involved since I have no idea who stole my traps. Now what am I supposed to do? I already owe the middleperson a lot of money and do not want to go further into debt (Preun 2006).

30Gear loss was mentioned not only by Preun but by many other households as a major issue. While fishers have always anticipated that their nets may be ruined by larger fishing boats and that smaller gear such as crab traps may get lost, the theft of fishing gear appears to be increasing. In a 2003 livelihood survey that I conducted (n = 61), only a few households in Koh Sralao (twelve percent) discussed stolen fishing gear as a livelihood problem, although individual discussions suggested that stolen fishing gear might be more significant than the survey numbers suggested (Marschke 2005). Three years later, in December 2006, after thinking more about what Preun had said and in talking with more fishers, I conducted a random survey of ten percent of Koh Sralao households (n = 32). Here, I asked about stolen or destroyed crab traps in the 2004–2005, 2005–2006 and the beginning of the 2006–2007 fishing seasons (in 2003, seventy-four percent of fishers used crab traps, and this number is likely similar today). What surprised me was the number of stolen or destroyed traps that were reported. In 2004–2005 the average number of stolen or destroyed traps was 120, in 2005–2006 this number increased to 187 and in the first two months of the 2006–2007 crab season this number was a staggering 231 traps per household. Even if gear theft is over-reported, these numbers suggest a striking amount of gear theft does take place.

31Many fishers are affected by gear theft and it is likely that some households are involved in gear theft themselves. Once the cycle of gear theft has begun in a village it is tough for households to not become involved, especially if one’s own gear has been stolen. Having access to fishing gear, after all, is the difference between making money in a given fishing season or ending the season further in debt. Some police officers likely have a vested interest in gear theft continuing since it is alleged that they can extract an informal profit from such an illegal activity, which, in turn, helps to supplement their own livelihood. Even when a village-elected resource management committee can intervene, gear loss is only resolved in a few cases.

  • 16 ACLEDA began in 1993 as an NGO for micro-credit and small enterprise development, and was transfor (...)

32Several factors may be impacting the increase in gear theft in the past few years. An overall decrease in aquatic resources means that fishers are struggling to earn a living from the fishery. As resources decrease, a middleperson is less willing to lend money, especially to those already in debt. In 2004 the ACLEDA bank opened a provincial branch and began giving loans to fishing families.16 Unlike a middleperson, the bank’s repayment schedule is strict. Some fishers hinted that they needed to steal from each other to ensure that they make their payments. Credit markets in Cambodia are harsh: credit rationing, high interest rates and strict debt collection are the norm (Kenjiro 2005).

Table vii: Trying to Handle Gear Theft


Koh Sralao Committee Initiative


Divided village into eight sections, each section was allocated a paint colour by which to mark crab traps.


Realized that they needed to switch to a paint that does not easily wash off.


Issued a fining system for stolen crab traps.


Ignored the crab-trap issue, focused on other issues (i.e., waste management, mangrove replanting, working with other committees in the area).


Suggested to increase community patrolling, but idea was opposed by the village leader (who was newly appointed).


Relied on park rangers and an NGO that does active patrolling in the area. This prevented some gear loss, along with artificial seagrass reefs.


Sand mining and crab decline was now the most pressing issue for the committee to address. Villagers reported that crab traps continued to be stolen and that sand barges also destroyed gill nets. Committee members appeared resigned to this practice.

33Fishing gear may be stolen or destroyed in fishing grounds in and around the village, or at fishing grounds further away (see Figure I in Prologue, which illustrates the mangrove-estuary areas where people fish and Chrouy Pros Bay where people also fish). The resource management committee in Koh Sralao has initiated various responses to gear theft over the years, focusing on theft in and around the village. Table VII documents the various attempts in Koh Sralao to deal with gear theft.

34As Table VII illustrates, the resource management committee has attempted to deal with gear theft over the years, although these attempts have not been particularly successful. Perhaps the most innovative idea was in relation to stolen crab traps in and around the village. The idea was to use village subgroups as a way to organize fishing households. Each subgroup was given a specific paint colour that households could then use to etch markings onto their crab traps. At first, fishers responded enthusiastically to this idea. The committee even fine-tuned the system by introducing water-resistant paints and ensuring that each subgroup knew their designated colour. Although this system was useful for identifying stolen traps when they were found, it proved far harder to verify who had been responsible for stealing the recovered crab traps. Such discussions were tense, and the committee never did find a suitable way to resolve these tensions. After a few years, the committee concluded that unless they caught someone red-handed, crab-trap theft was too contentious an issue to handle. As such, the painting and marking of crab traps has long since stopped.

35In 2006 the committee proposed that fishers could pay a nominal monthly fee to the committee so they could begin daily patrolling in areas where fishers set traps and nets. Although many villagers bought into this idea, the idea somehow became political and was squashed by several households that belong to the opposition party and by the newly appointed village chief (who is rumoured not to like the resource management committee because donors often bypass him to talk directly to the committee). Opponents accused the committee of wanting to pocket the money and suggested that they would not really use it for patrolling. Unfortunately, the idea of collecting fees became too controversial and had to be dropped. Committee members were now (2010) resigned to stolen fishing gear being part of the transaction costs facing fishers. Stolen and destroyed gear continues to be an issue, perhaps even more so as crab stocks are in decline and as barges and other larger boats run over sections of gill nets.

36Given the context of gear theft, one can see why the committee has struggled with this issue and has not yet found a solution to it. At least the committee has tried to address this, since other levels of government are not interested in touching this “hot” issue. For example, elected commune officials are aware of stolen gear but refuse to get involved. They argue that fisheries officials should be dealing with issues surrounding gear theft. Certainly Fisheries Administration staff are specifically mandated to deal with fisheries conflicts; however, several fisheries officials suggested that this issue was being exaggerated by local people and that there are more pressing issues for the Fisheries Administration to deal with. Only one Fisheries Administration staff member admitted that stolen fishing gear is a major issue that no one really talked about or knew how to handle.

37Even NGOs working within these areas were unaware of the significant increase in gear loss and felt a bit helpless in terms of how to support this issue. One NGO member suggested that gear theft is a normal cycle, with people stealing consistently from each other. This may have been a defence mechanism on behalf of the NGO member, as taking on gear theft would require significant effort at multiple levels. There is no doubt that gear theft is a vicious cycle that needs to be stopped, yet this issue does not appear to be on anyone’s agenda. It is amazing that this has slipped through the cracks in a country that has undertaken a significant fisheries reform and created policy that emphasizes local decision-making processes (Marschke 2008). If this really is happening to the extent that informal probing suggests, how is it that this has become an acceptable risk for those working in the fishery?

Fisheries Management Strategies

38A careful examination of what Koh Sralao’s resource committee focuses on illustrates that they do not work on an active fisheries management program per se. There are two noteworthy exceptions to this: patrolling efforts and attempting to enlarge the mesh size used in crab traps and nets. Patrolling efforts have already been extensively discussed, so I now turn to examining the latter.

39Using a larger mesh size for individual traps or nets can be done whenever fishers replace their nets, which often takes place on an annual or bi-annual basis. In 2002 the committee asked all fishers who were preparing their nets for the next fishing season to use the next size up (going from a 2 cm to a 3 cm mesh size). Many fishers in Koh Sralao agreed to do so, although they soon became quite frustrated when they realized that other fishers also using the same fishing grounds had not followed suit. Those fishers who had agreed to change their mesh size found themselves catching less fish than those who had not (Marschke and Berkes 2005). Understandably, Koh Sralao fishers returned to using a smaller mesh size for their fishing gear in the following fishing season. This is an example of a collective action challenge, since only with compliance from multiple villages is it worth everyone’s effort to comply (Ostrom 1990). It is possible that Koh Sralao’s committee would now have the moral authority to mandate a change of mesh size in the main fishing grounds of this area, asking other villages also to comply. However, it is also less likely that they would have the energy, ten years in, to monitor and ensure compliance for this action and would only do so with significant support from other actors (i.e., technical departments or NGOs). To date, they have not tried to enlarge mesh size again.

40In a sense, Koh Sralao’s committee tried to tackle tougher fisheries management issues in its early days: patrolling and encouraging the changing of mesh size are part of this. With time, the committee has chosen to partake in more manageable, durable activities such as habitat restoration, implementing a system of waste management and attempting to share their resource governance experiences with other villages and higherlevel authorities. The committee, in a sense, has skirted the most difficult fisheries management issues. In particular, the committee has not found a way to limit excess capacity (in simple terms, overfishing), either by switching the mesh size used in gear, limiting the number of fish caught or limiting who may enter into a fishing ground. With current stock declines, small-scale fishers, such as those in Koh Sralao, are forced to increase the number of nets or traps that they set and the number of hours that they fish, or to diversify into nonfishing livelihood activities.

41In the Cambodian context, catch limitation and limiting the number of fishers in an area tend not to be implemented (Salayo et al. 2008). Koh Sralao’s committee, in fact, appears to be a unique example of a committee attempting to limit catch in one fishing season (Van Acker 2010). Wayne (2009) best explains the views of the committee: “The bigger ships can take as much fish as they like, but we only take a little fish and fisheries staff expect us to take even less. This situation is not right, and we [the committee] cannot insist on making people take less when this type of local management would not be enough to improve the overall health of the fishery.” Catch limitation is not seen as a fair expectation when larger boats are not following suit. This is also true of exclusion, although for different reasons. Although it is ideal to create a zone where only community members can fish, the reality of doing so can be problematic. Fish species migrate, and much depends on climate variability, stock numbers and market prices in terms of where and what is desirable to fish in any given month. Some stocks and some fishers are highly migratory (Berkes 2010c). Creating tightly controlled zones of access might lead to greater conflicts than already exist, and serve as a mechanism to marginalize the poor further. Careful thought needs to be given to any strategy promoting effort reduction in the Cambodian context.


42People are living in a context that is turbulent and dynamic, where livelihood stability is not the norm. Nevertheless, people recognize that forms of resource governance may be helpful. Although the resource committee has not been able to control the decline of fisheries resources or the theft of fishing gear, it has been successful in other areas. Habitat restoration is one example of an action that has been particularly effective: over 500 ha have been replanted since 2000. As mangrove habit at near the village is restored, poorer households have an opportunity again to glean for cockles during the rainy season and, more generally, report seeing a greater number of aquatic species such as mangrove mud crabs in these replanted areas. Moreover, these mangroves serve as a buffer for the village against wind and storms.

43Koh Sralao’s committee has been willing to take on many challenges over the years and has found ways to sustain certain activities, including integrating activities such as mangrove replanting into commune planning processes (the next chapter explores this in greater detail) and to continue other activities at a village level, such as waste management. Even patrolling, an activity that ebbs and flows, has been consistent enough for other villagers and fishers to know that this is an area where it may take place and where one needs to be careful. From a longevity perspective, committee members themselves suggest that one key to their success is recognizing how to fight certain battles and when to accept those that will not be won. Having modest goals is one way to ensure a longer-term approach to resource management, for certain types of activities at least.

44Undoubtedly, local governance of any form is tough to implement in a context where resources are declining, there is limited financial or technical support and larger-scale entrepreneurs are also interested in the area. A committee will need the support of neighbouring villages and local government officials to patrol joint fishing grounds and to ensure consistent policies. Other actors, perhaps from the national level, will need to monitor and help foster solutions for issues such as overfishing, international fleets in local waters and larger-scale resource extraction activities. Resource governance beyond the village does get more complicated, since more actors are involved. Chapter 5 explores how resource governance is working across administrative units, exploring the management of a common fishing ground used by Koh Sralao villagers and others. The main fishing grounds are known as Chrouy Pros Bay; this is a relatively protected ecosystem that is approximately 30 km2.


13 This research team, which has consisted of staff from Cambodia’s Ministr y of Environment, along with staff from other national and provincial departments (including fisheries, women’s affairs and rural development) was supported by Canada’s IDRC between 1997 and 2010. Over time, the project team and project funds diminished, from CA$ 345,000 for the first phase of the project, then known as the Participatory Management of Mangrove Resources (PMMR, 1997–2001), to CA$ 100,000 between 2007 and 2010 for the last phase of the project, known as the Participatory Management of Coastal Resources (PMCR). In the early years, the team focused on capacity-building and supporting community organizing for resource management initiatives, while in later years the team focused on finding additional sources of funding for village groups, producing research reports and sharing lessons learned from the work of several resource management committees in the area. The team has done a serious amount of backstopping over the years to support village-level initiatives and convince national policy-makers of the relevance of local work. This is closely linked to the leadership shown by PMMR/ PMCR’s project team leader, who has consistently supported and worked on resource management issues over the years. For more details on the PMMR/PMCR team and their work, see PMCR 2008.

14 Through such study tours and local knowledge exchanges, relationships are built between villages. Koh Sralao’s response to the devastating 2005 fire that burned one-third of all homes in another community working on resource management issues 900 km away is illustrative of this. When news of the fire reached Koh Sralao, they, along with two other resource management committees in the area, raised CA$ 100 to donate to the resource management committee of the fire-ravaged community. This type of village-to-village help in the resource management sector, which has often been donor-driven, is generally unheard of.

15 The Mangrove Action Project (MAP), based in Thailand, has provided CA$ 8,000 per year since 2005 to the Ministry of Environment to support waste management activities in several coastal villages in Koh Kong province. Although this was tried in several villages, Koh Sralao appears to have been most successful (for more details, see PMCR 2008). This is an example of the fundraising the PMCR team was able to do in its later years.

16 ACLEDA began in 1993 as an NGO for micro-credit and small enterprise development, and was transformed into a commercial bank in 2003 with most loans going to entrepreneurs selling basic commodities.

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Titre Table vi: Resource Management Activities, 1998–2010
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