Provincial officials in Stung Treng have been selling off fish spawning areas in designated protected areas to private companies, according to a new report by the NGO Forum.
“Under the law, the granting of these fishery concessions is illegal…and have denied people’s access to fishing in the area,” states the report by NGO Forum’s Environment Working Group.
Mak Sithirith, the environmental coordinator for the NGO Forum, an umbrella group of NGOs, said that the sale and subsequent blocking of the streams with small-holed fishing nets threatens to deplete fishery resources, affects wetlands in the area and has prevented many residents in eight communes from earning a living.
Stung Treng Governor Chhim Chhorn acknowledged that the sales occurred after being repeatedly questioned in a telephone interview Thursday.
He maintained, however, that fishing rights on the Otalas and Okleang streams had been sold for only a month, and not during the spawning season. He also indicated that district officials had pressured provincial officials to sell the fishing lots.
The provincial governor confirmed the NGO Forum report that the province had raised 9 million riel (about $2,350) through the last round of sales. He said about a third of the proceeds were allocated to the provincial treasury and two-thirds to the Stung Treng district treasury.
Nao Thouk, deputy director of the fisheries department in Phnom Penh, agreed with the NGO Forum report that granting fishing concessions in Stung Treng is illegal because the area is protected for spawning. Small-scale fishing is permitted for local community needs.
“If this problem is allowed to go on, resources will disappear,” Nao Thouk said. “We will ask the government to take action.” He said his department also will send a report to the Defense Ministry, noting that provincial military officials are alleged also to be involved.
Fresh fish production in Stung Treng accounts for only 0.2 percent of the national fresh water fish production, according to the report.
But Nao Thouk said blocking streams in Stung Treng could have implications as far away as Tonle Sap lake. According to the NGO Forum report, some fish species are spawned in Stung Treng and then migrate to the Tonle Sap before returning to Stung Treng to spawn their offspring. Recent reports indicate that roughly 300 of the 500 species in the so-called Great Lake have disappeared.
The NGO report also claims that illegal fishing equipment such as electrical shocks, explosive materials, pesticide and modern fishing machinery continue to be used, especially in Stung Treng and nearby Kratie province.
Nao Thuok said an estimated 12,000 grenades have been thrown into streams in the area to catch fish since the 1980s, but he maintained the activity stopped in 1999.