sre ambel district, Koh Kong province – Two family fishermen were shot and killed by commercial fishermen off the coast here two weeks ago, another sign of an ongoing state of tension between the two camps that has pervaded the nation’s fisheries.
District police say the two men were part of a group of six that had stolen a boat and were robbing commercial fishermen with the help of a homemade wooden rifle. But relatives and neighbors denied that the men were robbers, and questioned why authorities could not find the shooters.
A statement from Fisheries Action Coalition Team, an NGO monitoring fisheries issues, said the family fishermen were trying to stop the commercial fishermen from damaging their gear.
Ty Ran, 24, and Ny Veasna, 18, were killed June 30 by armed guards on a commercial fisherman’s boat, said Sre Ambel district police chief Nhem Dara. Another man in the group was wounded, he said. The men had intended to steal the catches on the commercial fishermen’s boat, Nhem Dara said.
The armed guards are still at large, as are the three family fishermen, Nhem Dara said. The wounded man is recovering in a private hospital. Ty Ran leaves behind two children and a pregnant wife, said villagers in Phnom Sralao village, Chrouy Svay commune, where the family fishermen lived.
A mother of one of the uninjured fishermen said she paid commune policemen about $90 to allow her son to escape prosecution. Nhem Dara said he would investigate whether bribery had occurred.
It was the fourth case in two years of small fishermen being shot by commercial fishermen they were allegedly trying to rob, Nhem Dara said. The small fishermen especially covet shrimp catches and boat fuel, he said.
Going after the shooters is difficult because police lack motorboats, he said. Villagers disputed that the men were robbers and complained that authorities unfairly target family fishermen.
“Why don’t the policemen arrest the shooters? Why do they arrest the small fishermen instead?” asked Phong Heng, 63. “Fishing is our pot. Why do they break our pot?”
Disputes have increased off the coast in recent years as commercial fishermen using modern equipment have invaded shallow waters designated as public fishing grounds.
“My people have been very disheartened because big fishermen are encroaching on their shallow waters,” said Sre Ambel District Governor Moeung Luonsa.
About 500 large boats from the neighboring Stung Haw district in Sihanoukville regularly invade Sre Ambel to fish, he said. Family fishermen should report the illegal commercial fishermen to authorities, he said, because trying to stop it themselves could be dangerous. Commercial fishermen’s large nets and scoops often drag away the smaller nets and cages used by family fishermen, the fishermen complain.
Government fisheries experts say that using large equipment strips shallow waters bare of fish, resulting in overfishing and damaging the environment. Earlier this year the government banned a steel shovel device that was designed to scoop up surf clams, but instead swept up everything off the ocean floor.
In late 2000 Prime Minister Hun Sen made public the rights to 495,000 hectares of fishing grounds in 12 provinces. The transfer was intended to defuse tensions between private lot operators and poor fishermen.
But the violence continues, despite efforts to set up self-policing community fisheries. In December fishermen in a floating village on the Tonle Sap lake set fire to a village fisheries office. Fishermen said their communal fishing grounds were poor, and they had to bribe the owners of a private fishing lot to get access.
Also in December, a dispute between a commercial fisherman in Kandal and small fishermen led to authorities confiscating the small fishermen’s gear, and the small fishermen burning the commercial fisherman’s gear.
The Sre Ambel case is unusually severe because police have focused on the small fishermen and the killers have escaped, said FACT coordinator Mak Sithirith. “This is a big problem that should be resolved immediately.”
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