Kampot Fishermen Plan Protest Over Encroachment By Vietnamese Boats

Fishermen in Kampot province, who have been increasingly irked by an alleged increase in Vietnamese ships illegally trawling in Cambodian waters, say they once again plan to take their complaints to the governor.

Ly Noh said he and some 60 other fishermen representing thousands of fishing families along the province’s coast met in Kampot City’s Troeuy Koh commune yesterday to plan the protest, which they hope to stage in front of provincial governor Khoy Khun Hour’s office next week. He said a petition last month calling for the governor’s intervention had gone unanswered.

“We will assemble peacefully to call on the governor of the province to resolve the issue,” Mr Noh said. “Otherwise our fishing families who depend on fishing to support themselves are going to die.

“Those trawlers use [heavy equipment] while we use ordinary fishing nets,” he added. “Those trawlers are destroying our fish stocks.”

Nak Sein, a representative for a fishing community in the same commune, said recent years had seen a dramatic rise in the number of Vietnamese trawlers fishing in Cambodian waters.

In 2005, he recalled, locals would go days without spotting a foreign trawler. Now, he said, “at least 10 trawlers belonging to Vietnamese fishermen cross the line to fish illegally in our area” on a daily basis.

According to Mr Sein, the trawler captains are also growing increasingly bold. While holding to evening and pre-dawn hours, he said, the Vietnamese boats are being spotted ever closer to shore-just a few hundred meters from land in some cases-and sometimes even dock at local ports.

He said fishermen have held several protests in both Kampot and Phnom Penh alike, to no avail.

“The more we protest, the worse the situation gets,” Mr Sein said. “There’s no resolution from the government but the number of Vietnamese fishing trawlers is on the rise.”

Mr Khun Hour, the governor, conceded to only an occasional breach from Vietnam, and countered that Cambodian fisherman were at least-if not more-guilty of illegal, cross-border fishing as their neighbors.

“There are just a few Vietnamese fishing trawlers and boats reported fishing illegally in Cambodia’s sea, while there are a lot of Cambodian fishing boats captured by Vietnamese authorities for encroaching into their sea for illegal fishing,” the governor said.

The governor said a pair of Vietnamese trawlers was detained by provincial authorities for fishing in Cambodian waters illegally just a few days ago, but released after signing contracts agreeing not to return.

Mr Khun Hour said Cambodian and Vietnamese provinces on either side of the maritime border had an unwritten agreement not to fine each other’s citizens for illegal fishing in each other’s seas.

“The provincial authorities of the two countries have a mutual understanding, which is why we release the apprehended fishing trawlers,” he said. “If we take the tough measure to fine the illegal fishing boats and trawlers, Vietnamese fishermen can pay the fine while our fishermen will just cry before the Vietnamese authorities if their boats are captured,” he said, explaining that poor Cambodian fishermen are unable to pay fines if caught in Vietnamese waters.

Sar Sorin, chief of the Fisheries Administration’s regional cantonment, also admitted to an occasional intrusion by Vietnamese trawlers, but said authorities had trouble catching them because the ships stick close to the maritime border.

“We rarely catch the alleged illegal trawlers red-handed because they stay near the boundary,” he said. “When we go to crack down, the trawlers just return to their jurisdiction.”

Officials at the Vietnamese Embassy could not be reached for comment.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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