New Data Highlight Importance of Fisheries

The fish of Cambodia’s waterways yield more economically than the country’s vast expanses of rice fields, according to recent data compiled at the Ministry of Agriculture’s Department of Fisheries.

Almost 400,000 tons of fish were pulled from the country’s rivers and lakes in 2001, accounting for about 12 percent of gross domestic product. Rice production, meanwhile, amounted to

10 percent of GDP.

It used to be that “they talk about rice, not about fishing,” said Nao Thuok, director of the Fish­er­ies Department. “Now, the Min­istry of Agriculture is recognizing the importance of fishing.”

Official estimates of national fishery production were as low as 60,000 tons in 1984.

The increase can be attributed to better methods of accounting for the huge amounts of fish caught and consumed daily, said Chris Barlow, a senior officer with the Mekong River Commission.

Previously, data collection of fishery production was essentially based on “guessing” with an an­nual increase of 2 percent or 3 percent, he said.

Newer methods focus on the amount of fish people are eating—which is a lot. On average, a Cambodian eats 30 kg to 40 kg of fish a year.

Estimating fishery production is difficult because fishing is seasonal, dispersed and a part of day-to-day living for many people. Fish are a major dietary source of protein for most Cambodians, Nao Thuok said, and the country’s “quickest, easiest and cheapest way to make money.”

“Today you buy a net. Tomor­row you have fish,” he said.

The low fishery production estimates have given corporations and the government a free pass to pollute waters and endanger fish populations, Barlow said.

“People would say, ‘The re­source is not that much at all, so let’s go ahead and do whatever we want to the river,’” Barlow said.

The data is discussed in a recent report by the Mekong River Commission. “We still think there is a lot of underreporting. That’s sort of a neglected barrier,” said the MRC’s Delia Paul.

Numbers continue to be significantly underreported in Thailand and Vietnam, Barlow said.

The report was presented at the 10th annual meeting of the Me­kong River Commission Fisheries Program in Udon Thani, Thailand, this week. About 80 participants from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam attended the two-day meeting, Paul said.

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