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Financing community fisheries management in the Tonle Sap: issues and opportunities

In October 2015, the EU commissioned an independent evaluation of the IUCN/FACT project strengthening community fisheries (CFi) in the Tonle Sap. The project, which runs from 2013 to 2016, intervenes in three pilot sites: Phlov Touk in Kampong Chhnang, Boeung Chhmar in Kampong Thom, and Kampong Phluk in Siem Reap Provinces. In each site, the project has helped establish a strictly protected fish conservation area (FCA) that is managed by the CFi committee.

These FCAs, all of which cover deep pools and range from 25 to 200 hectares, serve as refugia where fish concentrate in the April-June period when the water level is lowest and the level of illegal fishing is highest. The project's M&E results indicate that as a result of protection, there are more fish, bigger fish, and a greater diversity of fish, and that this has translated into higher incomes. In Kampong Phluk, someone fishing (accidentally) inside the FCA, caught 2 million real of fish in a day.



The key recommendation from the evaluation was the need in the last year of the project to focus on testing financing mechanisms to sustain FCA protection and CFi committee operations beyond the end of project.

The importance of financing goes beyond paying for fuel and other operating expenses. Many CFi committees are weak. One way to strengthen them is to make them responsible for collecting and managing money. Responsibility for money (as opposed to just meetings and other events) should drive improvements in transparency and performance because there's much more at stake. Also, expanding CFi membership (and fees) reflects broader community support for the CFi in general and the FCA in particular. Currently, the FCA patrols depend heavily on the committee members, which is not sustainable in the long run. This "free rider" problem is of particular concern to the FiA.

In response to the recommendation to focus on sustainable financing, IUCN and FACT visited 10 FCAs in the Tonle Sap (two from each of the surrounding five provinces) to learn from their experience. Based on that analysis, we organized a workshop on December 22 in Battambang with 66 participants from 40 CFis to discuss sustainable financing options.

Overall, the study concluded that the more successful sites are characterized by transparent CFi committee elections, clear FCA demarcation and signage, and clear governance arrangements including by-laws, internal regulations, and management plans.

When it comes to financing options, these include expanding community fisheries membership and associated membership fees, charging people to fish in the FCA buffer zone, and tapping into commune development budgets.

Expanding membership is the most obvious option. Since FCA patrols (mostly fuel) cost about $100/month, a $1/month contribution from each family, typically several hundred families in each CFi, would comfortably cover the patrol costs. During the evaluation mission, we were told that the CFi committee membership was low because local fishers were too poor. Yet in Phlov Touk, 90% of the families had cell phones and spent $5 to $10/month on prepaid phone cards. So they can easily afford to pay, say, $2/month. This indicates a project weakness: despite the demonstrated success of the FCAs in terms of fish production, the CFi committees have failed to adequately make the case that better protection leads to more fish leads to increased income.

The idea of charging fishers, especially outsiders, a fee for fishing in the FCA buffer zone is attractive because it has the potential to turn "outsiders" from a threat to an advantage. This approach also incentivizes CFi membership and active participation through delivery of clear benefits and enforcement of community property rights. Fish attraction devices, mostly tree trunks and branches, have been installed in the FCAs, and combined with strict protection, this has resulted in a "spillover" effect with fish dispersing out of the FCA into the buffer zone.

Such systems are already in place: one of the FCAs we visited charge outsiders 5,000 riel a day with the fee going to the CFi committee to manage. The system could also be applied to local fishers with CFi members being allowed to fish free of charge in the buffer zone but non-members charged a daily fee. What's particularly attractive about this approach is that there is a direct link between conservation and income: the better protected the FCA. the more fish in the buffer zone, and the more fishers are prepared to pay for the right to fish there.

Several of the commune councils we work with have supported our arguments that a small portion of the annual commune development fund (typically about $10,000 per commune) should be used to finance the FCA patrols. The CFi in Kampong Phluk received $250 from the commune in 2015.

Other sources of funding exist. Some CFis have received donor funding to capitalize savings groups with a portion of the interest earmarked to fund CFi operations. In Kampong Phluk, FACT has set up savings groups that have generate several hundred dollars a year for the CFi.

In Kampong Prak in Pursat Province, Conservation International took a different approach by depositing $5,000 in a bank account and the interest is used to finance the FCA patrols. This has the advantage of being a very low risk (the capital is 100% safe); the disadvantage is that you need a large capital to generate sufficient interest to pay for the patrols. Investing capital in a savings group is more risky but by lending and relending money, a much higher return can be generated to support not only the patrols but a range of livelihood activities.

As an indication of why sustainable financing is so important, the history of Chong Kneas CFi in Siem Reap is instructive. From 2008 to 2011, the site received ADB funding that paid for a guard post and patrols. In 2012, when the fishing lots were abolished, outsiders thought the 10-hectare FCA was also abolished and there was a huge increase in illegal fishing. With the ending of external financing, the CFi was unable to protect the FCA. Forum-Syd provides $120/year but this just covers eight patrols, not nearly enough when a permanent presence is needed in April-June. In the 2014-2015 dry season, illegal fishers dug a channel and let the water out of the FCA and the community had to hire an excavator to fill it in.

Chong Kneas has potential: the locals are keen to reestablish the FCA and it has ecotourism potential. But the lack of sustainable financing meant that the CFi effectively collapsed when donor funding ended. By working with communities to develop a range of financing sources, the project aims to ensure that the three FCAs where it is operating continue to function after the project ends. The workshop in Battambang was an important step toward this objective.