IN 1998, PEOPLE in Na Doi, a quiet village in northwest Thailand, noticed that their fish catches in the nearby Ngao River were declining. The fish they did manage to net were also getting smaller. Together, Na Doi’s 75 households decided to try a radical solution: they would set aside a small stretch of river to be strictly off-limits to fishing.
Nearly a quarter-century later, the experiment has paid off. The protected section of the Ngao brims with large barb and mahseer (a kind of carp), and catches outside of the reserve, where the villagers fish, have significantly increased. The project’s shared ownership has created a greater sense of harmony and unity among villagers, and has benefited them individually, psychologically as well, says Nok Wa, 55, a farmer in Na Doi.