A committee assessing the impact of illegal fishing on the Tonle Sap lake has begun investigating whether the lake’s commercial fishing lot owners failed to comply with the fisheries law, officials said yesterday.
Early this month, Prime Minister Hun Sen formed the committee and tasked it with ensuring that the lake’s fisheries are protected.
Bin Chhin, one of the country’s nine deputy prime ministers, heads the committee, which includes such high-ranking officials as Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana and National Police chief Neth Savoeun.
Mr Vong Vathana personally inspected several fishing lots in Pursat province yesterday, according to Pursat governor Khoy Sokha, who said inspections of the fishing lots would continue for several days.
“We want to know whether or not the lot operators comply with the law,” Mr Sokha said.
Battambang deputy governor Sieng Sothang said fishing lot operators found breaching the fisheries law would have their contracts revoked. “The committee will verify the information in the contracts; how large the fishing lots are or if the operators separate the lots and sublease to other people,” he said.
Fishing lots cover 400,000 hectares of the Tonle Sap and are located in the fish-rich areas where rivers and streams flow into the lake.
While small fishermen have been struggling for years amid diminishing catches, fishing lot owners—some of whom pay the government up to $35,000 per year for fishing rights—are catching hundreds of tons of fish annually.
A local fisherman in Kompong Thom province, who only gave his name as Chhour, said it was common for Tonle Sap fishing lot operators to illegally divide their huge lots and sell the fishing rights to other businessmen. He added that lot operators also expanded their fishing beyond the areas they leased.
“Some fishing lot operators separate lots and resell them to other fishermen,” Mr Chhour said. “They usually encroach upon public fishing grounds.”
Since early 2010, Mr Hun Sen has repeatedly stated that the Tonle Sap’s dwindling fisheries and fish habitats, such as flooded forests, should be better protected against illegal fishing and land encroachment.
Five provincial fisheries cantonment chiefs around the lake were transferred to Phnom Penh on July 5 after the prime minister accused them of failing to curb illegal fishing.