Several hundred disgruntled Sihanoukville fishermen are threatening to protest against a tax hike and the presence of big foreign fishing boats.
Fishery Department officials and police confirmed Wednesday that they have heard of the possibility of a protest this weekend, and said they are ready to hear the fishermen’s complaints.
Among the complaints is a 20- percent tax hike on boats, permits and fish sold, said Nao Thuork, deputy director of the Fishery Department in the Ministry of Agriculture.
Nao Thuork said the tax increase, which was implemented at the start of this year’s fishing season in October, was not the decision of his department but of the “whole government.”
“Of course we have increased [the tax],” he said. “But this hike won’t affect the fishermen because they can now sell their fish at a higher price,” he maintained.
Another gripe of the fishermen is the perceived threat from foreign boats illegally fishing in Cambodian waters, he said.
These boats, most from Vietnam and Thailand, are likely protected by “powerful men,” he said, but he denied any involvement of his department. He also estimated fewer than 100 boats are operating without permits in Cambodian waters.
Police officials in Sihanoukville said they had heard rumors of the protest, but they had not received any official notification.
One fishery official, who asked not to be named, said the protesters may gather in front of the Sihanoukville theater, but he was unsure if they would move on to Phnom Penh. The official said he expected up to 600 protesters.
“If they want to protest: Go ahead,” said Sihanoukville’s deputy police chief, Tak Vantha. “They have the freedom to do as they want.”
Protests last year against toxic-waste dumping in Sihanoukville spun out of control, with demonstrators damaging several government buildings and looting the home of then First Deputy Governor Khim Bo.