The government has established a new committee with access to helicopters to help fight fishing crimes committed on the Tonle Sap lake, which environmentalists for years have warned is being overfished to the point of irreversible destruction.
Prime Minister Hun Sen formed the new committee in a directive signed on December 13 and disseminated online over the weekend, appointing Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon to mobilize authorities to patrol the sprawling lake.
“The task force has the duty to investigate and search for offenders and people involved in fishing crime,” it said, adding that the committee has “the right to use helicopters belonging to the air force of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces in order to work on their missions.”
The committee must regularly report its progress to Mr. Hun Sen, it added. National Police Chief Neth Savoeun and a deputy commander of the National Military Police were appointed as deputy presidents.
Mr. Sakhon said the task force was established after Interior Minister Sar Kheng recently traveled to Battambang province and witnessed people fishing illegally in the Tonle Sap, along with reports that little was being done to stop them.
“The government established the joint ministerial committee to clean up fishing crimes, because the Fisheries Administration did not cooperate properly with provincial authorities to stop the illegal fishing,” Mr. Sakhon said.
“We will prepare special working teams and we will give orders to the provincial levels to crack down on illegal fishing and we will follow the implementation of the provincial authorities,” he said.
Mr. Sakhon noted that in the past, offenders were simply “educated” when they were caught breaking fishing laws, but from now on he said they would be arrested and sent to court.
The minister said his first helicopter flight to spot illegal fishing operations is scheduled for Thursday.
Reported fishing crimes decreased by more than 200 cases this year compared to last year, he noted, although he did not have exact figures on hand.