Two men were detained, fined and released Monday morning in Siem Reap province for attempting to transport 100,000 newly hatched snakehead fish from the Vietnamese border to sell to fish farmers, officials said Tuesday.
Deputy provincial police chief Oum Amra said officers from his department pressured fish farmers in Sotr Nikum district last week to reveal where locals were buying snakehead fry.
“They told us that a few people transport the fry from the Vietnamese border and distribute them to that area,” he said.
The Agriculture Ministry banned the farming of snakehead fish in 2005 because farmers were depleting freshwater fish stocks in order to feed their snakeheads, known for being a quickly growing species with a ravenous appetite.
Mr. Amra said that when police officers saw the two men—whose names he said he could not remember—driving their Toyota Highlander through the district’s Kompong Khlaing commune, they decided to pull their vehicle over for inspection and found the fry in a plastic container in the back seat.
“We arrested the driver and the fish owner then handed them, the car and fish to the provincial fisheries department,” he said.
Provincial fisheries department director Prin Sovin said the men were released after paying a fine of 12 million riel, or about $3,000.
“We did not send the men to court because this is not a criminal case,” he said. “We fined them 120 riel per fry because the fisheries law requires us to do so.”
Mr. Sovin added that the fish were released in the Western Baray reservoir in Siem Reap City.
Minh Bunly, the Tonle Sap program coordinator for NGO Fisheries Action Coalition Team, said that most of the snakehead trade in the country moved in the opposite direction, with the fry caught in natural bodies of water in Cambodia and sent to farms in Vietnam.
“We have seen that some people catch the hatched snakehead fish for farming, but usually they catch the fry for selling at the market in Vietnam,” he said.