Illegal fishing is devastating fish stocks within Battambang’s Prek Toal bird sanctuary, and may endanger the area’s avian population, Kong Vannak, director of the sanctuary, said Tuesday.
Commercial fishermen are currently in the process of illegally pumping water from small dams in the area, drying up stretches of water so they can easily scoop up the fish, Kong Vannak said.
The process kills small fish that aren’t collected by fishermen but are essential food for the birds in the sanctuary, a popular tourist destination two hours boat ride from Siem Reap town.
“Small fish are left dead all over the fishing grounds,” said Kong Vannak, describing what is left after the fisherman take the commercially valuable fish. “The smell of decomposing fish is strong and the water turns black.”
He said bird numbers are declining and that part of the problem might be lack of access to food as the illegal fishing kills their prey. Other threats to the population include local villagers poisoning the birds in order to kill and eat them.
Kong Vannak said the illegal fishing has occurred every dry season since he was assigned to the sanctuary seven years ago. But, he added, he does not have the power to crack down on the errant fishermen.
“I have no authority to control the situation. I am only in charge of watching and conserving birds,” Kong Vannak said.
Battambang’s Deputy Fishery Director, Hong Hy, who is in charge of preventing illegal fishing in the area, denied that there was any illegal pumping this year at Prek Toal, despite reports as well as pictures taken April 19 by the environmental NGO Leucaena.
“Maybe the photos were taken a long time ago,” Hong Hy said.
But Lay Leng, Leucaena project director, said the photos were taken in Fishing Lot No 2, which is designated as a research lot but can be fished, using legal methods, at the owner’s discretion.
“This illegal incident really happened in the research fishing lot at Prek Toal,” Lay Leng said.