The National Assembly on Wednesday postponed until next week debate on a new law that introduces heavier fines and stiffer prison sentences for illegal fishing.
For fishing practices such as the use of explosives or electric currents, the new law would jail offenders for between three and five years. It would also enable government officials who permit such practices to be jailed for between one and three years, and would allot fishing grounds to local communities.
The current law provides sentences of three months to one year for illegal fishing, and only 15 people were prosecuted under it last year, said Nao Thuok, director of the Agriculture Ministry’s fisheries department. The law, in effect since 1987, is outdated and weak, he said by telephone.
“There was no power in the old law,” he said.
During Wednesday’s debate, opposition lawmaker Yim Sovann accused illegal Vietnamese immigrants of killing fish by polluting rivers.
“There are a lot of floating houses where the owners are not Cambodians. They are illegal Vietnamese immigrants,” he said.
“They pollute the water by dumping the waste into the water to cause the fish to die,” he added.
Nao Thuok said the new law calls for new floating settlements to be located at least 2 km from fish sanctuaries.
Yim Sovann also demanded that the Ministry of Agriculture explain why so many dolphins are dying.
Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun told the Assembly that the dolphins are threatened by grenades and fishing nets, and that inbreeding is leaving them with shorter life spans.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap attributed a decline of fish in general to illegal fishing techniques.
But Nao Thuok said fish stocks are not in fact declining. Estimates say this year’s catch will be 30,000 tons, a 20-percent increase over last year, he said.
The session has been postponed until Tuesday, when lawmakers are to vote on the issue.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)