From Catastrophe to Recovery: Stories of Fishery Management Success

Community Management of Fish Refuges in Cambodian Rice-Field Fisheries

Miratori Kim, Elizabeth R. Bageant, Shakuntala H. Thilsted, and Kathryn J. Fiorella


Abstract.—Home to nearly 500 aquatic species, Cambodian freshwater fisheries are among the world’s most diverse (Baran 2005). These diverse fisheries support the livelihoods and the food and nutrition security of millions of Cambodian people. However, these fisheries also face a range of threats, including conflicts with dam projects that disrupt fish movement and spawning, increasing harvest pressure, and unpredictable flood seasons. Rice-field fisheries support as much as 30% of all fish catch in Cambodia and are the site of a unique management strategy that has been implemented to sustainably improve fish catch and strengthen community governance: community fish refuges (CFRs). Community fish refuges have been encouraged by the government of Cambodia and are community-managed protected areas designed to increase fish productivity and protect biodiversity. We use governance scores to examine how support for CFRs from 2012 to 2015 has improved their governance across five dimensions (structure, planning, representation, fundraising, and networking) and the relationship between governance and fish biomass within CFRs. We find some associations between the governance scores and the biomass and biodiversity of the refuges, suggesting that improving governance may affect fishery productivity in this setting. Important lessons learned include (1) that supporting community leadership and technical knowledge enables communities to better understand and justify the underlying reasons for management actions and negotiate their implementation; (2) that in changing ecosystems, community-based approaches allow communities to responsively adapt to the unique, localized environmental conditions they face; (3) that community-based approaches capitalize on a community’s unique knowledge of their ecological setting and community; and (4) that engagement of community leadership with the wider fisheries context is essential to facilitating and encouraging community efforts.