Hundreds of fishermen were released Friday after being arrested Wednesday for allegedly fishing illegally in the Tonle Sap river, police officials said, but 13 foremen who oversaw the fishing operations are being held at the Kompong Chhnang provincial prison.
Sau Phan, deputy national police chief, said Friday that more than 200 fisherman were taken into custody in Pursat, Kompong Thom and Kompong Chhnang provinces. They were questioned and released to their families Friday, he said, but their dealings with authorities might not be over.
“They signed a contract that was guaranteed by their relatives or families to make sure that they would come back when we need them for questioning,” Sau Phan said by telephone.
The 13 foremen caught in the fishing raid were sent to the Kompong Chhnang Provincial Court and charged with illegal fishing and the use of prohibited fishing equipment, Sau Phan said, and they are now being held in prison.
The police operation was staged Wednesday by National Police officers using two speed boats. More than 200 workers, 13 foremen, 64 boats and 13 nets were either taken into custody or confiscated, Sau Phan said.
Authorities suspect the fishermen were using illegal nets; Cambodian law dictates that nets must be no longer than 600 meters long and the mesh must be at least 1.5 cm wide.
“They used nets with mesh that was under 1 cm, so even the smallest fish could not escape,” Sau Phan said. “Using illegal equipment like this makes fish [stocks] decrease and decrease.”
Complaints from villagers and local officials triggered the raid, Sau Phan said.
Sam Chankea, a coordinator for Adhoc in Kompong Chhnang province, said his organization supported eliminating illegal fishing and prosecuting the foremen who oversee the illegal operations. More crackdowns should happen in the future, he said.
“I would like to say thank you very much to the police, and ask that they release the workers because they didn’t know better. They were just working to get money to support their lives and families,” he said.