The Agriculture Ministry’s Fisheries Administration (FiA) is hoping to increase its presence along the coast by opening a new office in Kep province, where illegal fishing by local and foreign vessels has vastly depleted fish stocks and destroyed large swaths of the underwater ecosystem.
Kep Bay, which is routinely plied by illegal Cambodian trawlers and occasionally by larger, paired trawlers from Vietnam, is currently under the jurisdiction of the Fisheries Administration’s Kampot cantonment, but should have a force of its own, according to Eng Cheasan, director general of the administration.
“The FiA made the request, and it is with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. We hope that it will soon be approved,” Mr. Cheasan said yesterday, although he did not say when the request had been made.
“Kep is its own province and every province should have its own cantonment,” he added, declining to explain how the new branch would operate, apart from saying that “there will be more patrols, of course.”
Equipped with a single patrol boat, fisheries officers stationed in Kampot have complained of the difficulties of policing both provinces, claiming that offenders have informants who alert them if a patrol is heading southeast to Kep, where trawling is illegal.
Like many local officials along the coast, Mr. Cheasan conceded Vietnamese vessels stray across the maritime border into Cambodian waters to fish, but said that Cambodian fishermen also ply Vietnamese waters.
Asked whether maritime police —who have been accused by both Cambodian and Vietnamese fishermen of being paid to turn a blind eye to illegal fishing—were effectively policing the border, he declined to comment.
“Sorry, I couldn’t answer that correctly,” he said.
Conservationists working in Kep Bay say fish stocks stand at 25 percent of what they were in 2000, when commercial trawling began in the area, and that this decrease has threatened the livelihoods of some 1,500 families.
A fleet of about 50 local trawlers, which destroy marine breeding grounds with weighted, electrified nets, and the occasional Vietnamese paired trawlers, which drag a net that is hundreds of meters long between two boats, operate off the coast of Kep largely unhindered.
Contacted Tuesday, Tep Yuthy, a deputy governor of Kep province who has assumed an active role in preventing illegal and destructive fishing methods, said the establishment of a Fisheries Administration cantonment in Kep was overdue.
Mr. Yuthy said four Fisheries officers were already stationed in Kep, but they often rely on maritime police stationed on three islands off the coast because they do not have their own patrol boat.
“The reason that fisheries is weak in Kep is because there are few officers and no transportation, so they have to patrol in cooperation with maritime police,” he said.
“The illegal boats remain, and it is hard to find them because when we patrol, they disappear.”