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Kim Da sits cross-legged under a mango tree on a windy rainy season day in Rolous, a coastal fishing community in Cambodia. The 43-year-old mother of three listens quietly along with 20 other adult fishers as Sophany King, a Department of Fisheries (DoF) official, points to a chart depicting various crab and shellfish species. He is asking the fishers to draw a map of their community fishing area marking the different species found within it. He also asks them to identify species that have disappeared from it.

Normally quiet and self respecting, the fishermen enthusiastically discuss amongst each other as they point at the chart and explain to Mr. King that several species are no longer in the places where they once were, which indicates a change in the environment. To find out reasons for changes in species composition, a new mapping exercise of past and present activities is needed to find out the exact cause of the disappearances.

Kim Da explains that arranging meetings like this is good. “Community meetings such as this that establish what local marine resources are available are the first step to managing coastal fisheries,” she smiles.

Kim Da is a member of the local Community Fisheries Committee in Kampot Province. Established by the DoF almost a year ago, the committee is one of the tools the government is using to develop awareness among fishermen of the importance of local level fisheries management.

With the financial and technical support of FAO’s TCP programme, a capacity building project was launched in the beginning of 2006 to assist in this challenge. The project sets out to train government officials like Sophany King to give more information to local leaders like Kim Da on how to set a course towards coastal resource sustainability in Cambodia’s two coastal provinces, Koh Kong and Kampot.

In Kampot Province there are already eight community fisheries committees. Da explains that the committees have been established to put a halt to the unrestrained fishing in Cambodia’s coastal waters that is destroying the environment, and with it the livelihoods of local people. She says that understanding coastal resources is the first step in achieving this important goal.

The project looks forward to establishing community management plans that start with mapping the coastal mangrove, sea grass and reef areas, as well as the species that live in them. Areas of high biodiversity will then be designated as non-fishing plots, or fish sanctuaries, in order to rebuild wildlife. Restrictions will be put in place in seasonally sensitive areas, and mangrove forests will be replanted in some places. Already, some 20 hectares has been replenished in Kompot.

The project is in its infancy, but Da admits that one very important objective has already been achieved: people have a better understanding of each others needs because of the community fisheries meetings. And they also have a heightened sense of empowerment, because for the first time they are being asked what should be done to manage their own livelihoods and environment.

“Already people are looking out for each other, and are proud to be part of a community,” she says, explaining that domestic violence has even lessened as women’s groups are forming as a result of the community interaction. But according to Da, there is still a lot left to do.
About 20km away on a wind swept stretch of beach in the village of Prek Tnaud, Chun Jan, 28, sits idly with his two children in his primitive beach shack looking over a stretch of replanted mangrove forest. The sea swells as fat grey storm clouds shower down with rain.

He is a crab fisherman, but due to the bad weather there is no point in catching crabs today. He makes about US$3 a day but says there are less and less crabs these days. He is not part of a community fisheries committee but likes the idea of them.

He says the community fisheries idea is comforting.


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