The EU-funded CAPFISH-Capture programme, implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forest and Fisheries’ Fisheries Administration (FiA) in collaboration with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), has committed to continue funding the functioning and execution of action plans for community fish refuges (CFRs) in Cambodia. 

The initiative has been bolstering the conservation and management of resources in a sustainable and effective manner since 2020, as stated in a recent press release from the UN’s food agency. 

The project provides annual grants of 4 million riel (about $1,000) to communities, intended to facilitate the operation and development of community fisheries (CFis) and CFRs.

According to the release, the number of communities receiving funding increased from 150 in 2020 to 250 currently. These include 150 CFis across 15 target provinces, in collaboration with the FiA’s community fisheries development department, and 100 CFRs in 11 target provinces, in coordination with the department of aquaculture development. 

“Funding for these communities played a crucial role in fostering participation, empowerment and the fulfilment of roles and responsibilities. It also encouraged communities to partake in managing and conserving CFRs,” it stated.

It added that the funding is instrumental in establishing and supporting conservation areas, including signs, fence poles, wire and drainage. It also covers essential equipment and supplies for effective patrolling and supports habitat restoration projects for fish and other aquatic species.

Koen Everaert, deputy head of cooperation for the EU Delegation to Cambodia, emphasised the significance of CFis to many Cambodians, who rely on fishing for their livelihood and food security. 

“These CFis have empowered local communities to manage and protect their resources sustainably. This involvement promotes a sense of ownership and active participation in conservation efforts. Furthermore, well-managed fisheries can attract tourism, offering economic opportunities to local communities,” he stated.

Poum Sotha, director-general of the FiA, highlighted that the areas involved span most of the country’s fishing grounds, both freshwater and coastal. 

He explained that fish sanctuaries have been established to manage communal ponds in villages and communes. These areas conserve dry season fish, to facilitate their spawning and growth by connecting to rice fields and lowlands during the rainy season. 

“These fishing and fishpond communities are pivotal in conserving, protecting, managing and sustainably developing Cambodia’s fishery resources. Therefore, they must be capable, responsible and take ownership of their duties,” he stated.

Sotha elaborated that the endeavour requires collaboration between relevant national and sub-national institutions, local authorities, fisheries development partners and NGOs. The collaboration aims to strengthen community capacity through training, technical and financial support. 

He stressed the importance of community autonomy in assessing resource situations, encouraging member participation in resource protection, community development and the effective and responsible elimination of fishing offenses within their management areas.

“Without the involvement of CFis, sustainable fisheries and fisheries development in Cambodia cannot be achieved,” he stated. 

For effective grant management, the FiA, with FAO’s technical assistance, developed guidelines on the transfer and management of the budget to support the operation of CRFs. From August 2022 to June 2023, they delivered a training-of-trainers programme to cantonment officials, CFis and CFRs members. 

Rebekah Bell, FAO representative for Cambodia, stated that the group, in partnership with FiA, recently awarded certificates to 568 individuals. 

“These certificates recognise their successful completion of the training-of-trainers programme on the [budget management guidelines]. The programme was designed to enhance their management skills for CFi operations and we are proud of their commitment to the endeavour,” she stated.