Washington International Law Journal


Ian J. Mensher


The Tonle Sap Basin is not only Cambodia’s largest inland fishery, but also the source of food and income for roughly one million Cambodians. Its biodiversity is unrivaled within Southeast Asia, and its sustainability is vital to the socioeconomic and political stability in the region. However, Cambodia’s current fishery, forestry, and land laws do not adequately protect the Tonle Sap Basin from over-fishing and the introduction of sedimentation and pollution caused by increasing development. The laws do not create or reflect a model for sustainable fishing and development. Both the laws currently in force and proposed legislation fail to limit logging, farming and damming activities that ruin fish habitat and create economic and social instability. The myriad laws are at times too narrowly tailored to provide adequate protection or so broad as to create loopholes allowing adverse impacts from the development of agricultural lands, the use of pesticides, and the creation of dams. The laws also fail to meet the constitutional requirements and international agreements binding upon Cambodia. To remedy these legal and policy gaps, the Cambodian government should reform the current and proposed legislation to create more formal prohibitions on harmful activities and enhance local control over the management and monitoring of fishing. Stronger laws are needed to stop the introduction of further sediment and chemical agents into the Tonle Sap Basin. Moreover, the government must close discretionary loopholes and incorporate local users into a broad vision of sustainable management on the Tonle Sap Basin.

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