Two months after agriculture officials recalled fisheries officials from the provinces for retraining, lawmakers from fishing areas want them back patrolling the waters.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the government needs to act fast to save the fish, because fishermen are cheating in every way possible.
Fishermen are using illegal equipment, overfishing, fishing in prohibited areas, and even using batteries to electrocute fish, the lawmakers claimed.
“The people welcomed this reform, but everything was destroyed when the government removed law enforcement,” Cheam Yeap said.
Acting Minister of Agriculture Chan Tong Yves discussed the matter Thursday with members of the National Assembly’s commission on economy, planning, investment, rural development, agriculture and environment.
Last October, Prime Minister Hun Sen sacked the head of the fisheries department and ordered more than half of the privately held fishing lots returned to the public for fishing.
At the time, Hun Sen said he was responding to numerous complaints of corruption among fisheries officials. Poor people had complained that they were not being allowed to fish in their traditional waters, and that some private lot owners used guns to drive them away.
Two months ago, fishery department heads ordered 500 local fishery officials to come to Phnom Penh for retraining on new regulations, new laws and community fishing management.
The lawmakers told Chan Tong Yves that since the 500 fisheries officials left the provinces, fishermen were taking advantage of the lack of law enforcement to fish as they pleased. They urged the ministry to send the officials back.
Chan Tong Yves said the fisheries officials are not due to resume work in the provinces until May or perhaps June, when the annual ban on fishing comes back into force.
Chan Tong Yves said he has suggested to Hun Sen that the ministry send a team of fishery officials, military police and other law enforcement officials on a pilot basis to Kompong Chhnang province, which is reporting many problems.
He said he has received no response yet from the prime minister.
Om Yentieng, adviser to Hun Sen, defended the prime minister’s action. “I don’t believe the situation is as serious as they are saying,” he said. “The poor people benefited from his action and their livelihood is better protected.”
He could not say if the prime minister had received the ministry’s proposal.
Keo Remy, a Funcinpec parliamentarian, said he didn’t understand why all the fisheries officials had been removed for training at the same time. “It seems like an insult to say, ‘If you want your fishing lots back, we’ll take our officials,’” he said.
Ky Lim Ang, chairman of the commission, told Chan Tong Yves that if the government really wants to help the poor, perhaps it could stop destroying equipment, such as trucks, confiscated from illegal loggers. Why not give confiscated equipment to the poor? she asked.
Chan Tong Yves said the draft forestry law is supposed to emerge from the ministry later this month.