Government Reveals Scope of Illegal Fishing

More than 140 illegal fish traps exist in rivers and streams flowing into the Tonle Sap basin, ac­cording to a study conducted by the Tonle Sap Authority.

Minister of Water Resources Lim Kean Hor, who chairs the Tonle Sap Authority, said at a news conference yesterday that the Tonle Sap Authority had un­covered 143 places in five provin­ces where illegal structures have been set up.

The fishing traps, sometimes hundreds of meters wide, span rivers and disrupt the flow of water and fish migration.                                     Yesterday’s conference comes on the heels of a directive issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday in which he gave owners two weeks to remove the constructions under threat of legal action.

Mr Kean Hor said the Author­ity had researched the situation for more than a year and found large-scale illegal fish traps in Battambang, Pursat, Siem Reap, Kompong Chhnang and Kom­pong Thom provinces. He noted that the crackdown was not targeting small-scale fishermen.

“We and the government will not go after fish farmers who are doing this in a small part for their livelihood. These cases are not small-scale, they are blocking en­tire streams, creeks, and lakes.”

Though there are no hard figures, Mr Kean Hor said the Mini­stry had observed a decline in fish stocks in the Tonle Sap over re­cent years.

“If we cannot protect the 640,000 hectares of floodplain, in the next three years it will be a desert. When we have no floodplain, we have nothing. No fish.”

Khoy Sokha, Pursat governor, said yesterday he has contacted 60 fish trap owners in Kandieng district and advised them to dismantle their constructions.

“We invited 60 people in Kan­dieng district to inform them about the directive and told them if they don’t respect it, we will follow the measures outlined in the di­rective by destroying their constructions and sending them to court.”

Mr Sokha noted that the pro­vincial fisheries department has tried destroying illegal traps, but owners usually rebuild them.

“Previously, we cracked down by destroying their constructions, but they’re not afraid. After two or three days, they do it again. But this directive is very strong. It orders us to send the criminal to court.”

Tim Savuth, chief of Siem Reap provincial fisheries administration cantonment, said yesterday that the number of illegal traps in Si­em Reap was already low following a 2010 crackdown.

The crackdown, which resulted in the de­struction of 422 tree-branch traps, has already led to an in­crease of between 15 and 20 percent in fish stocks.

“We did it before the directive was issued. We do it every year,” he said, noting that the directive was a positive step in keeping the country abreast of the issue of illegal fish traps.

Keo Ratha, a fisherwoman from Pursat, said yesterday that she was skeptical about the efficacy of the directive and noted generally the crackdowns target small-scale traps rather than large ones.

“I don’t have 100 percent faith in the directive because in the past, after they crack down, a few days later it happens again.”


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