Small-scale fishers lose out to trawlers in race to catch Cambodia’s last fish

Small-scale fishers say commercial trawlers have been illegally entering their fishing grounds, scraping the sea clean of life and, with it, their community’s ability to survive.

At around 10:45 p.m. on a Friday in March, the order came to turn out the lights about 3 kilometers, or a mile and a half, from shore. Chhuan, the speedboat’s driver, who gave only his first name, killed the engine, and in the pitch black, rolling on the waves, the fishing village of Chroy Svay was barely visible. The crew huddled around a digital map, checking that they wouldn’t run into fishing nets laid by their fellow fishers that morning.

“What did you say? It’s a trawler, right?” Sedh Phoeun, another local fisher on board, was frantically asking his brother over the phone whether the steady hum of the trawlers’ engines was still audible back on shore. From the speedboat, Phoeun had temporarily lost both sight and sound of them.

“I see,” Phoeun said into the phone before relaying directions to Chhuan: Two trawlers were heading west. Perhaps they’d heard the sound of the speedboat and were trying to flee these fishing grounds.

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