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Balancing conservation of wetlands and sustainability of local livelihoods

Integrating Fisheries Management & Wetlands Conservation
Project leader
Yumiko Kura and Kosal Mam
1 Apr 2011
31 Mar 2013
The Stung Treng Ramsar Site in Cambodia is arguably the most important wetland complex for biodiversity in the Mekong River Basin. Placed onto the List of Wetlands of International Importance (also called ‘Ramsar Sites’) in 1999, this section of the Mekong is home to a unique riparian forest that provides key habitat and food sources for a wide range of mammals, birds and fish. Yet despite this richness of biodiversity, there is widespread poverty and endemic food insecurity in the area.
This Ramsar site is host to 21 villages and over 10,000 inhabitants, plus seasonal licensed and unlicensed fishers who follow annual fish migrations. The last 10 years has seen a dramatic increase in fishing activities, as well as the use of destructive fishing practices, both of which have placed severe pressure on some species of fish and the wetland biodiversity. Of particular concern has been the absence of legal tenure, weak governance and lack of enforcement of rules and regulations, which have led to widespread exploitation of the site. These threats have been outlined in a number of previous studies, including those by the Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity Program (MWBP), a joint program of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Mekong River Commission (MRC) that ended in 2006. A number of local NGOs and the Cambodian government have been working with local communities to address some of these issues and the clear gap in regulating fishing activities within the Ramsar site.

Reinvigorating the management plan 

The ‘Integrating Fisheries Management & Wetlands Conservation’ project is building on the outputs of the MWBP and others, through the remobilization of the Stung Treng Ramsar Management Plan. This WorldFish project is focusing predominately on fisheries management at the local community level and the Ramsar site level, although there will also be provincial and national level involvement. The resulting reinvigorated management plan can then be used as an example to drive change in the region.
In addition, community-based fisheries management will be strengthened in at least two conservation core areas within the Ramsar site, which will ensure that the management of fisheries is devolved to the lowest practicable level. Legislation is already in place to support this approach.

Co-dependent biodiversity and development

One of the positive long-term outcomes being sought is reconciliation between conservation of critical habitats and species within the Stung Treng Ramsar wetland complex. Another is the sustainability of local livelihoods, through the development of an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management.
Ultimately, a model approach for aquatic biodiversity conservation and protected areas management, balanced with a sustainable approach to the supplementation of livelihoods will result, which will be replicable elsewhere in the Mekong River system.