kompong leng district, Kompong Chhnang province – Citing illegal fishing methods and the ongoing effects of a drought, villagers and officials said this month that plunging fish stocks are ruining their livelihoods in Kompong Leng district.
Fish catches nationwide have decreased by as much as 20 percent from a year ago, spurred by illegal nets that hinder fish migration, lower-than-normal water levels and the expansion of fish-farming operations, agriculture officials said last week.
Var Vorng, 37, who lives in Kompong Hao commune, said the widespread use of illegal, closely-knit nets has dramatically diminished fish stocks in his Stung Sandek village.
People in these parts use fishing nets with holes so small they resemble mosquito nets, catching every kind of species in the river, he said.
Others block fish migration on the tributary by erecting bamboo barriers, which keep fish from laying eggs during mating season, villagers said. These days, his daily catch is usually 7 or 8 kg, which he can sell for about $5. “Other days, we catch no fish,” he said.
Ten years ago, he recalled, he could catch 40 to 50 kg a day.
In addition, individual tributaries of the Tonle Sap river are managed by private businesspeople who prevent villagers from fishing in their local streams and drain the river of fish, said Chem Chhan, 51, who lives in Kompong Leng district’s Samrong village.
Though he lives near the river, “when I want fish I have to barter with the vegetables” that he grows in order to buy fish at the market, he said.
The decline in fish has forced Nou Phalla to drive a motorbike taxi to earn money. As a motorbike taxi driver, Nou Phalla, 26, said he makes at least $2.50 per day. As a fisherman, he said, the catch was often so poor, he made nothing at all.
Fish farming is also contributing to the fall in this year’s catch, said Nao Thuok, director of the Agriculture Ministry’s Fishery Department.
Nationwide, “we just received 250,000 tons, which last year was 308,000 tons,” he said.
Fish farmers, who section off areas of the Tonle Sap river with the tightly-woven nets, encourage mass catching young fry that they use to feed their own fish, he said.
Sok Vanny, a fish farm operator in Kandal village, Kompong Chhnang district, said she buys nearly 100 kg of young fry each day to feed fish on her farm.
Authorities are discussing how to deter this practice, Nao Thuok said, but added that they face a continuing battle.
“We cannot stop people from fish farming completely because it helps meet the [market] demand” for fish, he said.
In response to charges that private owners are monopolizing fish catches, Nao Thuok said that a part of each tributary is reserved for villagers to catch fish for their families. Some villagers, however, want extra fish to sell, which is why fishing lot owners are protective of their tributaries, he said.
Chhoeung Yang Uk, who operates a fish farm in the same village, added: “If [authorities] do not allow fish raising, they will have no fish to eat.”