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Fishery management body planned

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Fishing boats crowd parts of the Mekong River. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Cambodia and Laos have agreed to set up a joint fisheries management body by the end of 2018 and reaffirmed their commitment to improved fisheries management in border provinces.
Fisheries authorities from both countries and officials from the respective national Mekong committees (NMCs) recently went on an exchange visit to the Mekong and Sekong rivers, connecting Champasak and Attapeu provinces of Laos with Stung Treng and Kratie provinces of Cambodia.
The trip was organized by the joint Mekong River Committee’s (MRC’s)Mekong and Sekong Rivers Fisheries Management Project.
The parties visited a fish conservation zone in Attapeu and a fisheries community in Stung Treng where they learned from each other on how communities manage their fisheries.
They also checked on trans-boundary fisheries issues in the Mekong and Sekong rivers for a comprehensive report as a basis of establishing a joint management plan.
“We have the same problems and concerns in managing our fisheries resources that are being threatened by human activities and infrastructure development,” said deputy secretary-general of the Cambodia NMC Watt Botkosal.
“Promoting closer cooperation is crucial for the two countries to effectively address those issues.”
Through this project, fisheries specialists from the two countries have identified significant issues that they can jointly address, including unsustainable fishing practices, lack of enforcement of fisheries regulations and habitat degradation due to excessive land use change.
They have also selected five whitefish species that migrate long distances and are commercially important for monitoring and managing at the trans-boundary level.
In addition, the two teams have agreed to adopt the MRC’s fish monitoring procedures to monitor catches of whitefish species in the Mekong and Sekong rivers.
They will commence the monitoring activities and train selected fishermen to document common fishing practices, profiles of fishing gear used and map monitored habitats.
The MRC’s Mekong and Sekong fisheries project is assisting the governments of Cambodia and Laos to improve the management of inland fisheries and conserve biodiversity of ecosystems and species in the Mekong and Sekong rivers through cross-border cooperation, discussion and joint activities.
It is one of the five bilateral projects funded by the World Bank under the MRC’s Integrated Water Resources Management Project, which facilitates trans-boundary dialogue to promote cooperation for better water resources management.
Another milestone they agreed on is to set up a joint fisheries management body by the end of the project in 2018. The two teams said they will discuss the structure of the joint body and financial issues, and identify stakeholders’ needs that are critical for a successful design and implementation of the joint management body and action plan.
“The project sets the stage for action that brings Cambodia and Laos to work together for their natural resources. We hope that the collective action and broad cooperation will optimize management of the fisheries resources,” said MRC’s director of planning An Pich Hatda.
Viengsay Sophachan, the national coordinator of the Laos NMC, believes the collaboration will enhance the sustainability of the fisheries.
“We will continue our efforts to ensure that our bilateral cooperation complements one another for sustainable fisheries resource management that can support people’s livelihood while conserving nature,” he said.
Youk Senglong, the deputy executive director of the Fisheries Action Coalition Team, said Cambodia has the cooperation of other countries but law enforcement at the regional level is still weak. This affects Cambodia more than Laos, Vietnam and Thailand.
“Law enforcement taken by the authorities to prevent and suppress offenses of illegal fishing is not effective because of weak management and corruption, while the neighboring countries enforce the law strictly and sentence Cambodia’s illegal fishermen based on their laws,” he said.
Originating in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, the Sekong River flows through Laos and enters Cambodia to join the Mekong. It is one of the largest Mekong tributaries, providing corridors for fish movement linking spawning habitats upstream with downstream feeding habitats.
The rivers sustain millions of Cambodian and Lao people.
Yet the health of local communities and the rivers’ ecosystems in both countries are being threatened by increasing fishing, illegal fishing, deterioration of the watershed, increased flash floods and severe drought, along with infrastructure development, including hydropower schemes.

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