Officials: Deforestation Killing Off Large Fish

The loss of flooded forests has caused a drastic decline in the large fish population, costing the government millions of dollars in lost revenue each year, fisheries officials say.

One-third of the 1 million hect­ares of inundated forests that once surrounded Tonle Sap lake and other bodies of water are gone, said Nao Thuok, director of the fisheries department of the Min­istry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

As a result, an estimated $40 mil­lion is lost annually, taking a big slice out of the $150 million to $200 million fishing industry, Nao Thuok said.

“About 70 percent of the big fish population has disappeared because of loss of these habitats, while small fish have increased,” said Touch Seang Tana, a fisheries specialist at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fish­eries.

Dozens of species of large fish rely on the forests, Nao Thuok said. They feed on decomposed leaves, and the shelter provides them with a spawning ground and protection from bad weather. The forests are flooded as a result of the annual reversal and swel­ling of the Tonle Sap during the monsoon season.

The loss has also been severe in Prey Veng, Kandal and Takeo provinces, where only about 5 percent of the original forests remain, Touch Seang Tana said.

Aquatic deforestation in those provinces began in the mid-1970s during the Khmer Rouge regime. The Khmer Rouge engaged in whole­sale forest clearing for farmland, Touch Seang Tana said.

The clearing continued during the 1980s for farms and firewood, he said. Meanwhile, human population growth in Takeo province took a sharp toll.

But Chin Sokhon, agricultural department director for Kandal pro­vince, said clearing of aquatic forests for farms in his province has been reduced. He said some peo­ple are no longer cutting aquatic trees for firewood be­cause of environmental concerns.

Reforestation of aquatic forests can work, Nao Thuok said. Siem Reap protected its forests and started replanting in the early 1990s, and 600 hectares of flooded forest is flourishing, he said.

Illegal fishing and the capture of young fish is also a factor in the decline of large fish, officials said.



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