“Stop them, they used illegal fishing tools.” These are the voices of community fishery members shouting louder at the illegal fishermen during the crackdown happened in one of the deep pools in the Mekong River of Pon Chea village, Sambo district where it is the habitat and spawning ground for various types of fish in the Mekong and the Great Lake in Cambodia.
It’s An Hou, the elected president of Sambo District Community fishery Network (CFi), who described the collective action undertaken by Cfi members to crackdown this illegal fishing to me and my Oxfam’s colleague during our recent visit to an Oxfam’ partner – Northeastern Rural Development (NRD) which implements their project in Sambo district of Kratie province.
Hou said villagers and CFi members chased the boat of illegal fishermen and tried to surround their boat to catch them. One of the illegal fishermen immediately saw the boats of the CFi members chasing them. They started to jump into the river and escaped the scene, leaving behind two boats (8 meter long), two machines on the boat, batteries and equipment used for fishing purpose. All the illegal fishing equipment from the crackdown, including the boat and machines, has been kept in a secured place.
A few weeks later when Oxfam’s partner- NRD- organized a commune public forum in Beung Char last September 2016, Hou reported this case to district governor, representatives from Kratie provincial Fishery Cantonment and the community attended the forum, to take further actions against illegal fishing activities happened in the Mekong.
Hou highlighted during the forum that the perpetrators (illegal fishermen) have continuously threatened Cfi committee and members. They said to him and the CFi members that they will come back to take their ‘illegal fishing equipment.’
Hou told me that the community requested for the permission from the Fishery Cantonment to allow them to keep the confiscated equipment for use. However, the community received only the verbal permission without any formal written confirmations from the authorities.
This request further angered the offender, who was on bail. He vowed to revenge the community and to take the boat and equipment back. According to the villagers’ observation, the offender continued their illegal fishing activities fearlessly of the consequence.
One week after the public forum, the confrontation took place when the ‘illegal fishermen’ met with two young CFi members who involved in the crack-down, while they were on the way back to the village after buying rice in the district town . The confrontation left one of the perpetrators shot on the buttock and the community member who caused the wound in the act of self-defense fled, hiding in the forest. The other young man was arrested and the fled young man’s father was also arrested by the authority and jailed for a week. In this process, the authority managed to convince the young man to present himself to the authority in exchange for his father’s release. His father was released afterward but the two young men are still in jail.
A local media outlet covered the incidence of the confrontation but the story was twisted and reported that community fisheries committee fired on the fisherman fishing in the river.
This confrontation despaired and enraged the community around Pon Chea village because of what was happened. A petition with hundred thumbprints was gathered and submitted to the Kratie Provincial Court demanding for justice and call for action to stop illegal fishing activities and demand illegal fishermen to be brought before law for their conducts.
To date, the man who illegally fished and was cracked by the CFi is living in the community. Members of community fishery who engaged in this crack-down of illegal fishing felt desperate about the issue. Some of them felt the law exists only in the paper and does not take it seriously into implementation.
Oxfam has worked with NRD to support fisherman like Hou and other communities in the Mekong region to protect their fishery resources by strengthening the CFi institution and dialoguing with relevant government stakeholders to ascertain better governance of the resources as well as strengthening their capacity and knowledge on fishery law, legal procedure to stop illegal fishing activities and help forming community fishery patrolling team to care of the river and monitor illegal fishing activities in the river.
Hou, patrolling team, NRD and Oxfam’s colleague, stand on Koh Knher Island near Kandol Mouy Roy Deep Pool Conservation zone in the Mekong River, Sambo district of Kratie province, Photo by Oeurm Savann/Oxfam
“For the Community Fishery Committee to be effective, it is important that we have knowledge about our legal rights so that when we conduct our mission such as patrolling and we encounter the illegal fishermen, we know how legal action to take against them,” said An Hu, Sambo district Cfi network.
Hou and his community will not easily give up their action to stop any illegal fishing activities in the Mekong River. He said, “The effort of the community fishery committee and its members who tried to protect the common resources from being illegally exploited are going on.”
Hou and villagers has continuously called for relevant authorities, the court, the provincial fishery cantonments, the district governor to take appropriate and further action to address this case.