Fishermen from Kandal province’s Lvea Em district protested outside the Ministry of Agriculture Tuesday, four days after Prime Minister Hun Sen urged fishing families to demand better access to privately owned fishing lots.
About 300 people spent the morning standing outside the ministry with placards supporting the Angkor Sovann fishing company, which lost the rights to use a Lvea Em district fishing lot to another fishing company after a court battle.
Protesters said Tuesday they have refused access to the lot by its current owners, who they accuse of confiscating fishing equipment in recent months. “Although I rowed my boat to fetch morning glory in the fishing lot, I was not allowed,” fisherman Chhai Chham said.
Angkor Sovann officials have promised to set aside part of the lot for them if it is returned to the company.
Company Managing Director Pin Sovanna said Angkor Sovann will also repair local roads if the lot is returned.
Access to privately-owned lots by locals dependent on fish has become an increasingly difficult issue, sparking more than 100 violent incidents last year, according to the government. Lot owners often use armed guards to turn away locals, despite their being given the right by the government to fish parts of the lots.
Fisherman Sar Khoeun said his fishing nets have been confiscated three times in recent months—a common practice by fishing lot guards and even government officials trying to exact bribes from fishermen.
“My rice was destroyed by flood and now I am choked up with frustration. How can I eke out a living if I am not allowed to fish?” Sar Khoeun asked.
Late last month Hun Sen ordered fisheries officials to take thousands of hectares in five Siem Reap fishing lots away from private bidders and open them to the public.