Minister of Water Resources Lim Kean Hor said yesterday officials were worried that continuing low water levels in the Mekong river and Tonle Sap lake would affect fish production, a concern shared by fish experts and local fishermen who feared this year’s catch would be reduced.
“It is true that the fish [catch] will decline a little bit,” Mr Kean Hor told reporters at the opening of the Mekong River Commission’s new secretariat in Phnom Penh. “This is a problem we are worried about.”
“We scientists are studying it to make sure how much the fish catch could decrease,” Mr Kean Hor said.
On Aug 10, the minister played down fears over the record-low levels of the Mekong River, saying that he expected tropical storms to bring sudden flooding.
Data from the MRC website showed water levels near Stung Treng City stood yesterday at about 7.7 meters, about a meter below 1992 levels, the driest year on record. At the port of Phnom Penh, the river was 5.5 meters deep, compared to about 7.5 meters in 1992.
Government fisheries expert Touch Seang Tana said low water levels were likely to affect the most productive fish species, Trey Riel, which is caught between December and February and used to make prahok—the fermented fish paste used by many Cambodians.
“The floods are almost two months later than last year and are not so big,” he said. “Trey Riel needs the floodplains for spawning…. Now this year they may decline because there is no place for spawning.”
Mr Seang Tana pointed out, however, that rampant illegal fishing was having a much bigger negative impact on fish stocks. Um Meng, who lives in a floating village on the Tonle Sap lake in Kompong Thom province’s Kompong Svay district, said water levels were 3 meters lower than last year, so low that fish could not go into the flooded forests to spawn.
“If the water is low, the fish is less,” he said, “It’s a natural disaster [for fishermen], as bad as a drought” for rice farmers.