Tonle Sap Crackdown Snags Gear, Frees Fish

A committee led by Agriculture Minister Veng Sakhon made its first sweep of the southern part of the Tonle Sap lake on Wednesday in a campaign to curb illegal fishing, destroying hidden caches of gear and releasing hundreds of kilograms of trapped fish back into the waters.

“We came to Pursat and Kompong Chhnang today to inspect illegal fishing because we concluded that fishing crimes happen in those areas much more than other provinces,” said Mr. Sakhon, who took a helicopter trip over the area last Thursday.

While Wednesday’s operation snagged gear and released fish from six different locations near the lake, he said more work was needed.

“We have concluded that there is still a lot of illegal fishing equipment remaining in the lake,” he said. “We will send a special team from Phnom Penh to Pursat and Kompong Chhnang provinces next week to fight illegal fishing on the Tonle Sap.”

Criminals had become savvier, he added. “It is difficult to find illegal fishing equipment because the offenders hid their wooden posts in deep waters. Before, they put the posts on the shallower part of the lake.”

Moreover, he said, “it is difficult to find offenders because they put their fishing equipment in the lake and then go home.”

Ing Try, deputy director of the Fisheries Administration, said the laws covering fishing on the Tonle Sap, long overfished by poor residents, were complicated.

“There are conservation areas,” he said. “If you fish in conservation areas, it is illegal.”

Mr. Try said legal gear for fishing outside conservation areas was outlined in a recent proclamation. Fishing with certain kinds of large nets and traps, as well as electric-shock fishing, are both illegal.

Mr. Sakhon promised a monthly helicopter trip to monitor illegal fishing on the lake.

(Additional reporting by Aisha Down)

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