With the fishing season in full swing, officials and wildlife experts are concerned that fishing nets will continue to decimate Cambodia’s rare freshwater dolphin population.
“At the rate they are dying, the Mekong dolphin will be gone in 10 years,” Touch Seang Tana, member of the Economic, Social and Cultural Observer Unit at the Council of Ministers, said Friday. “I recommend that the authorities educate fishing communities quickly.”
“I have learned that most of the dolphins that die, die in fishing nets,” said Phy Somany, senior officer for the Mekong Dolphin Conservation Project. “Studies conducted between 2001 and 2004 estimate that 10 dolphins were born each year but more than 10 dolphins also died each year.”
Already one of the estimated 70 to 100 Mekong dolphins, which congregate at nine locations in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces, has died in 2006.
Department of Fisheries data shows that 14 died in 2003, 18 in 2004 and 13 last year, Phy Somany said.
“I would like to appeal to the National Assembly to pass the new Fisheries Law and call on fishermen to monitor their nets closely when fishing,” he said.
The Fisheries Law, whose draft was submitted to parliament in 1999, specifies punishment for those catching dolphins and selling their meat, he said.
Fishermen can easily save the dolphins if they release them within 15 minutes of catching these air-breathing mammals in their nets, he said.
Thong Khon, secretary of state for the Ministry of Tourism, said the ministry is very concerned about this because the number of visitors coming to Kratie to watch the dolphins has increased from 1,632 in 2001 to 5,626 in 2004.
Last August, tourism authorities in conjunction with police started patrolling dolphin sights in Stung Treng and Kratie provinces, he said. “We are trying our best to save them…tourism authorities are questioning why they continue to die off.”
Thong Khon added that the Ministry of Agriculture’s Fisheries Department has started a hatchery program for Mekong fishermen to divert their activities away from dolphin areas.