Oxfam-America, Inc.

Oxfam-America, Inc.

Reclaim their ecosystem: A decade-long effort to preserve biodiversity along the lower Mekong River succeeds in curbing illegal fishing and forest cutting, and in enabling people to exercise their rights.
Photo Caption
The community fishery committee in her village along the Mekong River in Cambodia, searches for fish.
Photo Credit
Savann Deurm/Oxfam America

As the leader of the Community Fishery (CFi) patrol in Rathnakri, Cambodia, Na Bunthev’s mission is to protect the fisheries in his community. He recounts one particularly tricky encounter with a fishing boat that was too large for his patrol to tackle. However, Bunthev’s patrol was aided by the patrol from a neighboring community and local authorities, and together, they overtook the boat and confiscated illegal nets and fishing gear. The two patrols comprise different ethnic groups, but they work together to protect their common natural resources.

“We must protect our fisheries to protect the breeding fish,” said Bunthev.

Oxfam’s partner Save Cambodia’s Wildlife (SCW) is working with 14 CFis in northeastern Cambodia, including Bunthev’s, to protect habitats along the Mekong River. This work is part of a larger effort known as People Protecting Their Ecosystem in the Lower Mekong (PEM), which began in 2013 to address damage from large-scale development projects and impacts of deforestation to the biodiverse ecosystem and watershed. From 2013 to 2022, the PEM project brought together partner organizations, conservation nongovernmental organization (NGO) partners, and government agencies to increase capacity in communities in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam to conserve aquatic resources and river ecosystems.

One of the most significant impacts of this project is the establishment of community-based national resource management bodies (CBNRMs) across the three countries that oversee natural resources. The CBNRMs have enabled people to realize their rights, as well as to sustainably use and manage forest and river resources. Communities have developed their own regulations for resource use, including setting limits on fishing activities (such as types of fishing gears allowed) and designating protected areas. Communities in all three countries have succeeded in reducing illegal fishing and forest cutting.

Another success: In Vietnam, after a reservoir from the construction of a hydropower dam displaced surrounding communities, 15 predominantly women‘s fisheries came together to hold the company responsible for the reservoir to account. They reached an agreement to use part of the reservoir to set up a fish farm. Now, with training and technical support from partner group Centre for Social Research and Development, these fisheries are reaping the economic benefits of the farm and are working to scale it up, while also building a community-based ecotourism project.

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