Fisheries officials last week confiscated 3 million baby catfish that were being smuggled to Vietnam and released them into the Tonle Bassac river. But it was a small victory in Cambodia’s ongoing fight to save Mekong catfish populations by targeting illegal fishermen and smugglers.
Despite a recent increase in patrols by fisheries officials, more baby catfish, or pra, are being caught and shipped to Vietnam, where they are raised in fish farms before being sold at local markets and exported.
“The catching of baby fish seems to be on the rise more than last year because offenders think the crackdown has stopped,” said Nao Thuok, deputy director of the fisheries department.
The boat carrying the 3 million young fish to Vietnam was stopped and searched by fisheries inspection officials last Wednesday and the cargo was dumped into the river.
But most boats carrying illegally caught fish make it safely out of the country with their catch. Often, fisheries officials said, the fishermen work at night when the patrols have stopped for the day. Fishing for pra occurs everywhere from the Tonle Sap lake to spawning grounds in Kratie and Stung Treng.
Since the beginning of this year, authorities have confiscated fishing gear and catfish in more than 120 cases of illegal fishing.
Fisheries officials say the illegal fishing harms not only the catfish populations. Other species of fish are also being caught in fishermen’s nets, reducing their numbers as well, Nao Thuok said.