An NGO forum held on Friday to discuss illegal fishing activities in Cambodia got heated when fishermen accused local government officials of colluding with other fishermen using forbidden equipment.
The Fisheries Action Coalition Team, an NGO promoting sustainable fishing practices, led the forum at the Royal University of Phnom Penh to warn that illegal fishing is on the rise along the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers, as well as in coastal areas.
The NGO did not provide annual figures to back up its claims and said it was relying upon anecdotal evidence from working groups.
Hor Sam Ath, a fisherman from Battambang province, used his turn at the microphone to angrily point his finger at the Ministry of Agriculture’s Fisheries Administration officials.
“Some local fishery administration officials are colluding with fishermen by taking bribes for allowing them to commit illegal fishing,” Mr. Sam Ath said.
Long Sochet, chief of the Coalition Cambodia Fisheries, another NGO that participated in the forum, also said he has received reports of local government collusion.
“We have received information everywhere that there is colluding to commit fishing offenses,” Mr. Sochet said. “Fishery offenses are a serious problem.”
The NGOs alleged that fishermen are using illegal equipment, including nets that exceed the permitted lengths and electric shock techniques, and continuing to fish during the closed breeding season.
The government bans fishing in the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers from June 1 to October 30 in order to allow fish stocks to be replenished during the breeding season.
Ing Try, deputy director general at the Ministry of Agriculture’s Fisheries Administration, argued community leaders with links to the NGOs usually accompany his officials when investigating illegal fishing.
“This is only your information,” he said. “I didn’t see. Who took the money? Please confirm a name, time and place. I do not deny it may have happened, but I need time to investigate.”
Mr. Try said authorities are trying their best to educate fishers not to use illegal equipment like electric shocks, which sterilize fish that don’t get caught.
“We have cracked down at the head, but then it happens at our backs,” Mr. Try said.
“Fishery offenses are a complicated problem.”