Kampot province fishery officials and marine police on Monday arrested 16 Vietnamese nationals accused of driving three fishing trawlers into shallow Cambodian waters in the early hours of the morning.
Trawling in shallow waters or using electrified nets—as many trawlers do—are crimes that carry prison time. Critics say the practice is environmentally catastrophic, destroying breeding grounds for sea life and endangering turtle and fish species.
“We have confiscated three trawler boats and arrested 16 Vietnamese people who come only when there are storms,” said Sao Sorin, Kampot’s fisheries director.
In the past, Mr. Sorin has said his men are vigilant in preventing Vietnamese and Khmer trawling boats from fishing in shallow Cambodian waters.
While much of Kep Bay and nearby waters are far shallower than the 20-meter minimum specified by the law for trawling, local trawlers say officials don’t pay attention to sea depth.
Provincial officials have previously claimed there is no law against Vietnamese trawlers encroaching into Cambodian waters. However, Mr. Sorin said this time that the fisheries law held that trawling in general was an offense, and the arrested Vietnamese fishermen could be fined.
He could not specify the depth of the waters in which the trawlers were seized.
“We have to look into whether those Vietnamese people committed a crime under Cambodian law before we take action,” he said.
Mr. Sorin said his office relied on reports of illegal trawling from local fishermen to make arrests. “Even though we don’t do much patrolling, we are always prepared to crack down when we receive reports,” he said.
Sim Vuthea, deputy provincial governor, agreed on Monday that fines were the right punishment for the fishermen. He added that Vietnamese nationals had previously been imprisoned on trawling offenses.
“The fisheries law as I know it is that the trawlers face fines, and if they want their boats back, their authorities have to come and guarantee it won’t happen a second time,” he said.