Government Task Force Destroys Seized Illegal Fishing Gear

A government task force charged with eliminating illegal fishing on the Tonle Sap lake has destroyed more than 100 km of nets and other equipment seized in Kompong Chhnang and Kompong Thom provinces this month, officials said on Monday.

Two teams of 30 officers each had been ordered to target the two problem areas under a two-week deadline given by Interior Minister Sar Kheng last month, as efforts to stamp out illegal fishing in the country intensified.

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Interior Minister Sar Kheng walks to a helicopter in a photograph posted on the Agriculture Ministry’s Facebook page in January.

Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon said on Monday that the task force had overseen a decline in large-scale fishing crimes in the two provinces, and had now been pulled out.

Prime Minister Hun Sen created the force in December and gave it access to helicopters. Mr. Kheng warned governors of the provinces surrounding the Tonle Sap lake that they would lose their jobs if they did not stop illegal fishing.

During the allotted two weeks, eight fishermen were arrested and charged, more than 100 km of tight mesh nets and seine (a fishing net that hangs vertically in the water) were destroyed, and 10 batteries for electrocuting fish were seized, Mr. Sakhon said.

“We continue to crack down on illegal fishing,” he said. “But if we forget [about] it, it will return.”

The officers would remain on-call in case activity picks up again, he said.

“When we find big illegal fishing at night, we will dispatch our force there,” he said.

Sok Lou, Kompong Thom’s provincial governor, said his officials continued to carry out investigations, despite a significant drop in fishing crimes in the two main floating communities in Kompong Svay and Stong districts.

“We cannot be careless,” he said.

Minh Bunly, Tonle Sap program coordinator for Fisheries Action Coalition Team, a group of environmental NGOs, said the government task force appeared to be successful because of the interior minister’s intervention, but he was “not sure about the future” with the task force out of the picture.

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