More than 140 families in Kompong Chhnang province’s Boribor district are faced with an immediate food shortage due to unusually low water levels and a seasonal ban on fishing, according to Ses Slab village chief Seng Phun.
Mr Phun said yesterday that 146 families, constituting around half of his village’s population, were lacking food as they have been unable to catch fish during the last two months.
“My villagers are facing a food shortage because the water [level] is changing and moreover, fishery officials totally ban villagers from fishing,” he said, adding officials had destroyed most of the villagers’ fishing nets and fishing poles because these were deemed illegal fishing equipment.
Local villagers, for whom fishing is their only source of income and food at this time of year, are consequently “living hand to mouth,” Mr Phun said, living off rice porridge and small animals they can catch in village rice fields.
Somrith Theng, chief of Chnnok Trou commune, in which Ses Slab village is located, denied the situation was as grim as Mr Phun had described it, saying, “The villagers’ living situation is on average level. They do not face serious food shortage; they are just unable to fish.”
He said fisheries officials had prevented local villagers from “anarchy fishing” and had destroyed only the illegal fishing equipment, such as large, fine nets. Large-scale commercial fishing with such equipment is banned in the fish-breeding season, which lasts from July until October.
“Now it is the fish breeding season. We have to strengthen the Fisheries Law in order to maintain our natural resources,” Mr Theng added.
Minh Bunly, program officer for the Tonle Sap lake at fisheries NGO FACT, said that according to the Fisheries Law, small fishing equipment for subsistence fishing could be legally used throughout the year. “If villagers are fishing as a family it is not against the law,” he said, adding, however, that villagers often do not know what type of fishing equipment is legal or illegal.
“So when officials come and start to implement the Fisheries Law in a strict way [and destroy illegal fishing equipment], it can make villagers angry,” he said.