Under the ACIAR-funded project Culture-based fisheries development in Lao PDR and Cambodia a team from the Cambodian side of the project travelled to Lao PDR from 8-12 May. The exchange visits between the researchers and selected community leaders of both countries are a major component of the project, expected to facilitate networking and communication between the teams and to bring about an interchange of ideas and lessons learned.
The nine members of the Cambodian team included at least one representative from each of the four participating provinces engaged in planning and monitoring activities and two prominent community leaders, as well as the team leader and group engaged in coordinating the work at the Fisheries Administration. A comparable team from Lao PDR participated in the joint exchange meetings and activities.
The specific purpose of the visit was to apprise the Cambodian team of the culture-based fisheries activities that have been on-going in Lao PDR for the past five years, including aspects of community-based management of common water bodies. The exchange visit included field visits to reservoirs practicing culture-based fisheries, lectures from Lao project team members and interaction with community leaders.
The main component of the field visit was a one-day visit to the Sivilay community when there was an extensive exchange of ideas. The Sivilay community has 123 households (606 people) of which 109 are involved in the culture-based fisheries activities, which began in 2007. The community manages as 35 ha reservoir, which is stocked with advanced fingerlings of tilapia, common carp, silver barb, catla, bighead carp and rohu in July and August. Harvesting is normally allowed for 20-30 days in March and April each year, with around 10 tonnes of fish produced in 2012. The community is well organised with strict rules, regulations and responsibilities defined for its members. Harvesting, marketing and income distribution is well coordinated and organised.
Through facilitated translation arrangements, the Cambodian team interacted with the Sivilay community leader and its members. About 20 Sivilay community members including women involved in culture-based fisheries activities were present for the interaction sessions, which were held under a shed near the community water body. All in all it was an excellent field visit with learning opportunity for all.
The Cambodian group obtained considerable information on the mechanisms and logistics of culture-based fisheries practices in Lao PDR; the powers the community have over management of the water body including to impose fines on poachers; and the manner in which income is distributed amongst the community. The Sivilay community has improved its management regimen with experience over the last six years and is maintaining culture-based fisheries activities completely independent of project support, but continues to be involved in disseminating the practice to adjacent village communities and in providing training.
It was evident that there are some fundamental differences in the approaches to culture-based fisheries between the two countries. In Cambodia water bodies are treated as a common property resource with free access, permitting any individual to fish at their discretion, any time of the year, unlike in Lao where water bodies are managed by the village community, primarily aimed at water management of downstream agricultural activities. As a result of the open access regime in Cambodia the stocked fish may not reach optimum size and thereby reduce the potential income from culture-based fisheries activities.
It was therefore agreed that the collation of baseline data on the project water bodies and subsequent monthly survey data on the fish catches / production would be required to document the benefits from the culture-based fisheries programme on the Cambodian side, and the need was recognised to introduce regulations to facilitate adoption of culture-based fisheries where communities wish to undertake such an endeavour. Some Cambodian communities will take steps to initiate a dialogue with the provincial government as a means of obtaining support for a change in regulations to protect fish stocked for culture-based fisheries purposes.
The success thus far in Lao PDR of culture-based fisheries was highlighted; basically all the communities that were involved in the first phase of the project, beginning in 2007-2008 continue to do so, in spite of the fact that a few may have had failures in some years due to adverse weather conditions, flooding and similar mishaps. All these communities are now self-sustaining in all aspects and provide leadership to adjacent communities who wish to adopt culture-based fisheries.
The Cambodian team also visited Nam Ngum Reservoir and interacted with a local Fisheries Officer to learn more about the management of the reservoir, which is one of largest in Laos, built primarily for the purpose of power generation.
A reciprocal visit of Lao PDR team to Cambodia is planned for May 2014. A regional workshop to share the findings of the project with other countries is tentatively scheduled for November or December 2014 in Siem Reap.