Fisheries crackdown pushes Cambodians to the brink on Tonle Sap lake

A ban on illegal fishing in Tonle Sap, Cambodia’s largest lake, is hitting local communities hard — even those engaged in legal fishing.

From her sun-bleached wooden houseboat in the floating village of Koh Tapov, on the southeastern side of the Tonle Sap lake in Kampong Thom province, Hai Sokha and her family looked out at the quiet waters one morning in late June. For more than three months, the family of fishers had not dared go out on the water.

In April, they’d fallen foul of a renewed crackdown meant to stamp out illegal fishing on Cambodia’s largest lake, and only by paying a fine the equivalent of $250 had one of Sokha’s family members avoided prison.

The fine, or bribe as Sokha referred to it, had wiped out the last of their savings, and now, with authorities patrolling the water almost daily, she worried that they would soon have to risk taking to the water in search of fish.

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