Crackdowns and ecological collapse drive fishers from Tonle Sap Lake

Fishing communities on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake are struggling to maintain traditional livelihoods, as rules and access swing on a political pendulum – and fish populations fall.

Like her parents and grandparents, Thi Bay has made a living from fishing on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake her whole life. But the combination of a collapsing ecosystem and ever-changing management is forcing the 70-year-old to leave fishing behind.

Instead, Thi Bay now spends several days a week collecting snails on the outskirts of her village, Chong Kneas, one of several houseboat communities along the banks of Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake. She mostly sells the snails to locals, who like to buy directly from fishers to ensure the freshest produce. This barely supports her and her granddaughter, Thi Bay says as she plucks another snail from her trap.

“I prefer to fish. Nobody buys snails every day,” she says. But in the face of an ongoing crackdown on illegal fishing on the lake – and constantly changing rules around what is allowed, and where – she doesn’t dare go fishing. “We are in trouble if we do anything illegal. But even if I am not guilty, I don’t want to risk it.”

In full:

Related Stories

Latest News