National Police officers arrested hundreds of fishermen in a crackdown on illegal fishing Wednesday in three provinces on the Tonle Sap River, police and officials said Thursday.
The crackdown was organized in Pursat, Kompong Thom and Kompong Chhnang provinces on direct orders from the Ministry of Interior based on reports from local officials, Ministry of Interior spokesman Lietenant General Khieu Sopheak said.
“It is true that Ministry of Interior police officers went to crack down on illegal fishing in three provinces along the Tonle Sap River,” he said by telephone Thursday. “They used illegal equipment for fishing, even though the smallest fish and smallest crawfish could not escape.”
Khieu Sopheak referred further questions to Deputy National Police Commissioner Sau Phan, who led the crackdown and could not be reached for comment Thursday.
A National Police official, who participated in the raids and asked not to be named, said the massive police operation led to the arrests of 288 workers and 17 foremen and the confiscation of 67 boats and 14 fishing nets measuring between 600 and 1,200 meters.
By law, nets cannot be longer than 600 meters, Pursat provincial director of the fisheries administration Seng Sun Huot said.
Also by law, such crackdowns are led by his office, he added, saying he was surprised not to have been informed of the police operation.
“It is not right that national police crack down on illegal fishing without being joined by fisheries administration officials,” he said.
The hundreds of people arrested were taken by boat to Kompong Chhnang provincial police headquarters, where they were all being detained for questioning as of Wednesday evening, said Sam Chankea, Adhoc coordinator in Kompong Chhnang.
Illegal fishing has increased in recent years, with nets getting longer and longer, and fish stocks dwindling, Sam Chankea said. He added that the fishermen may not have known their practice was illegal and police should focus on those running the operation.
Kompong Chhnang Governor Touch Marim said the suspects were brought from Pursat and Kompong Thom and denied any arrests had been made in his province.
“Illegal fishing doesn’t happen in my province. They just brought the fishermen to stay in the provincial police office for questioning,” he said.
Kompong Thom provincial police chief Chea San said his police were only indirectly involved, forming a cordon to make sure fishermen didn’t escape the National Police operation.
He added his forces are keeping watch over the area where illegal fishing occurred until further notice.