Panel Will Probe Illegal Open-Ocean Fishing

A new commission has been formed to combat illegal fishing on Cambodia’s open ocean by Thai and Vietnamese vessels, gov­ernment officials said Mon­day.

The 15-member commission will include police and soldiers, according to Khun Hang, minister of the Ministry of Parlia­mentary Relations and Inspect­ions, who will head the group.

The commission was approved by Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 3, in response to complaints by fishermen in Sihanoukville and Koh Kong province that illegal fishing vessels from Thailand and Vietnam were crossing into Cambodian water and fishing using “modern equipment,” Khun Hang said Monday.

Fishermen have charged that some of the illegal trawlers are under the protection of powerful men, perhaps Cambodian police and military officials. And while fisheries officials have conceded this is possible, they say they do not know who they are.

The commission will be investigating allegations of officials’ involvement as well, Khun Hang said.

An investigative team will be dispatched to Sihanoukville in upcoming weeks, he said. Illegal fishing has been a point of contention with protesting fishermen in Sihanoukville. In March, 29 Vietnamese were arrested for illegal fishing near the resort town.

In nearby Koh Kong province, fishermen have reported losses to their hauls as high as 30 percent compared to previous years. They blamed loggers switching occupations and illegal Thai trawlers.

Officials estimate around 100 illegal fishing vessels frequent Cambodian waters.

The commission was formed to look into problems with open- sea fishing and not rivers, Khun Hang explained.

The commission will not investigate the attack on six fisheries officials on the Tonle Sap River last week, he said. A mob of about 25 illegal fishermen at­tacked the officials, killing three, after they confiscated boats and equipment in a late-night raid. Officials were forced to swim away. So far three arrests have been made in that attack.


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