Community-Based Fish Refuge Management Approach​

23 August 2023

Community-based fish refuge management approach: the reviving productivity of rice field fisheries systems for improving local food accessibility and supplemental household incomes

Small-scale sustainable fisheries management

Fish is a significant part of the Cambodian diet. The per capita fish consumption is 52.4 kg. Unfortunately, the natural stock continues to be threatened by unsustainable harvest levels and the use of illegal and destructive fishing gear where the supply struggles to meet the demand. Rice field fisheries systems that contribute significantly to inland fisheries productivity are also severely affected by these unsustainable practices. In response, conservation efforts are being introduced and implemented by the government, private agencies, and local communities. One of these efforts is the model of Community-based Fisheries Resources Management, collaboratively engaging communities to collectively protect and improve critical fish habitats. Community Fish Refuge (CFR) Ponds serve as habitat and retreat for the fish during the dry season.

Rice field fisheries systems are the vast inundated fields that serve as paddy fields and open-access fishing grounds which are connected to the refuge ponds and other waterbodies through canals (in the rainy season). Research shows that rice field fisheries systems are the most accessible fishing grounds for poor fishers including women.

GIZ Cambodia’s project on Sustainable Aquaculture and Community Fish Refuge Management (SAFR) of the BMZ’s special initiative ‘Transformation of Agricultural and Food Systems (SI AGER)’, collaborates with partners and local communities to support them in setting up 10 CFRs between 2021 and 2022. The purpose is to improve the physical and ecological conditions of the refuge ponds to benefit the rural poor.

At the beginning of 2023, the project lends further support to 11 more Community Fish Refuges. Hence, in late June, the project supported the Fisheries Administration and project partners to organize the CFR Committee elections in Kampong Thom province (central part of Cambodia). This is the start of a participatory process to revive the richness of fish species, biodiversity, and ecological conditions within the rice field fisheries systems.  The richness of the rice field ecosystems is gradually degraded due to unwise extraction which directly threatened local livelihoods. The exciting participatory approach that promotes community initiatives involves CFR Committee election, CFR registration, developing CFR By-laws, establishment of rules & regulations, setting and implementing CFR management plans, improving the physical and biological conditions of the refuge pond, regular patrolling of the refuge pond, the establishment of no-take zones, awareness raising of the CFR concept and Fisheries Laws, and committee capacity building.

In addition to strengthening the management practices of CFR management committees, the project supports the organization of caregiver groups in the target communities where mothers and caregivers come together to learn about good hygienic practices in their daily life and to prepare healthy food for young children from fish and vegetables from

their backyards. This is a complemental activity designed to promote nutritious food at affordable costs among women and young children. It contributes to the improvement of nutrition intake of these population groups, as the statistics indicate that around 40% of all children in the country are too small for their age and 28% are underweight, and 20% of all women aged between 15 and 49 are undernourished.

The responsibly managed Community Fish Refuge Pond sees a remarkable reduction in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities, and the catch increases between 10 – 15% per year, which significantly improves local food security and household incomes.

Link to further materials

Contact Person

Sean C. Austin

Key buzzwords
Rice field fisheries approach, small-scale fisheries management, community fish refuge pond