Dynamics of Fish Assemblages as Policy Shifts from Fishing Concession to Co-Management
Temporal Dynamics of Fish Assemblages as a Reflection of Policy Shift from Fishing Concession to Co-Management in One of the World’s Largest Tropical Flood Pulse Fisheries
Inland fisheries management in Cambodia has undergone two major policy reforms over the last two decades. These reforms led to the abolishment of a century-old commercial fishing lot system in 2012 and the establishment of new fish sanctuary and community fishing areas. However, the status of fisheries and fish assemblages following the reforms is not well understood. Here, we investigated the temporal changes in fish catch weight and fish assemblage structure for the period 1995–2000 before fishing lot abolishment (BLA) and for the period 2012–2015 after the removal of all fishing lots (after lot abolishment-ALA) using time-series fish catch data recorded from the Tonle Sap Lake (TSL), one of the world largest inland fisheries. We found (i) mean catch trends vary seasonally, with stable catch trends during the BLA and decreasing catch trends during the ALA and (ii) significant shifts in fish assemblage composition, notably a shift from large-bodied, migratory, and/or predatory species during the BLA toward more short-distance migratory and/or floodplain, small-bodied species during the ALA. Fishing lot abolishment coincided with substantial changes to floodplain habitats and increases in fishing pressure, threatening TSL fish stocks. Flow alterations caused by dams and climate change may exacerbate the problem. Therefore, to realize the fisheries reform objectives, it is imperative to strengthen the fisheries’ governance and management system, including effective law enforcement, institutional strengthening, improved planning, cooperation, and coordination as well as clearly defined roles and responsibilities among concerned stakeholders at all levels.