About 16km from the provincial town of Siem Reap, “Kampong Phluk” is a commune under the administration of Prasat Bakong district. The area is surrounded by mangroves and Barringtonia acutangula that are more than 100 years old.
Located in the floodplain area of Tonle Sap Lake, Kampong Phluk is rich with fish resources, biodiversity and many species of wildlife such as monkeys, gibbons, civets and otters as well as many species of water birds and reptiles.
Due to the geographical situation of the area in the rainy season, the people in this remote commune have built their homes on high pillars to stand firm against floods and use small motor boats as their primary means of transport during the wet season.
Unlike other communes in the district, families in the commune do not have any agricultural land for cultivation. Most of their livelihoods depend on fishing.
Sok Yun, 62, a resident of Kork Kdol village in the commune and deputy head of the Kampong Phluk fishing community, told The Post that ever since he was born, his villagers have relied solely on fishing because no family has farmland for farming.
“In the olden days, we did not lack for anything, because there were a lot of fish that we could catch and sell to support our daily lives. Now, the fish are not as abundant as before. Some days we cannot catch enough fish to pay for the fuel in our boats,” he said.
According to Yun, the current decline in fish stocks in the lake is due to climate change and the increase in hydropower construction in the upper Mekong River in other countries. He said the river has changed drastically, affecting fish circulation and increasing fishery crime in the area in recent years.
In 2011, the government issued a sub-decree on “delimitation of approximately 650,000ha of flooded forest” in six provinces around the Tonle Sap Lake, including Kampong Chhnang, Pursat, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap and Kampong Thom. However, it was discovered by president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia Sok Touch in late 2021 that tens of thousands of hectares had been illegally cleared, encroached on or occupied.
“The clearing and occupying of the flooded forests in the area around the Tonle Sap Lake is the biggest destruction of fishery resources in Cambodia,” said Prime Minister Hun Sen in November last year.
The prime minister urgently ordered the six provincial authorities around the Tonle Sap Lake and other relevant ministries and institutions to launch a campaign to investigate and crack down on these crimes and return the illegally occupied land to the state.
Authorities reclaimed more than 60,000 hectares of flooded forest land, and many perpetrators were prosecuted.
While officials were preparing to replant seedlings to restore the flooded forest area in early 2022, Touch found that illegal fishing had taken place across the Tonle Sap Lake.
He reported that fishing offenders used large high-speed boats and illegal fishing equipment – such as trawl nets attached with electrical shock devices – to traps to catch dozens of tonnes of fish a day and that this meant the Kingdom’s fishery resources were facing extinction.
In order to protect their sustainability, on March 23 the prime minister issued an order for the army and police force to join the relevant ministries, institutions and the provincial authorities to conduct a large-scale crackdown on illegal fishing activities. The operation employed military patrol boats and helicopters.
However, fish are still not as abundant as they were 20 or 30 years ago, said Yun. He suggested that the government should consider giving them some social land concessions for agriculture, and train them in farming and animal husbandry to increase their income, in addition to fishing.
Sok Plang, the newly elected commune chief of Kampong Phluk, told The Post that he acknowledged that relying on one occupation alone would not improve the livelihoods of the commune’s families.
“In order for the families to survive, it is essential that they have other secondary occupations, such as farming, animal husbandry or running small service businesses based on the potential of the geography in the area where they live,” he said.
As Kampong Phluk has the attractive scenery which would be suited to tourism, Plang said the authorities have established a community of natural cultural tourism, with the residents offering boat tours which provide them with an additional income stream.
According to the commune chief, at present, Kampong Phluk commune has three villages, Kork Kdol, Tnot Kambot, and Dey Krahorm. There are a total of 998 families, of which 65 per cent are fishermen and 25 per cent transport tourists. The remainder are vendors or boar repair specialists.
Sang Kong, head of the Kampong Phluk Ecotourism Community, told The Post that the commune has become a tourist destination for national and international visitors since 2013, due to the presence of the established mangrove forests. The forest covers 48ha and is a delightful sight.
“Now it is the spawning season and fishing has been suspended, so we drive boats and transport tourists, earning extra income,” said Kong.
According to Phlang, the number of tourists increases in the rainy season, as the flooded forests are a major draw card. In addition, it is much easier to travel the area in boats, so more than 100 tourists a day come to enjoy the views.
“Tourists who come to visit our community in Kampong Phluk this rainy season can visit our floating homes and restaurants, see the mangrove forest and enjoy the sunset over the Tonle Sap Lake. There are also many waterfowl to observe,” he added.
A family of five may pay as little as thirty dollars for a three hour boat tour, he said.