Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday marked National Fish Day by urging his countrymen to raise more fish to make up for declining wild stocks, even suggesting that the owners of spent sand quarries turn the pits into lucrative fish farms.
“If we depend on the existing fish in the Tonle Sap, the Mekong and Bassac rivers and other natural rivers, it will not be enough, so we need to raise more fish,” he said.
Mr. Hun Sen was speaking at an event in Kompong Cham province, where he released about 1 million baby fish into the Knach reservoir.
Mr. Hun Sen said the weight of farmed fish more than doubled last year to 300,000 tons, but added that the country could do better, citing the example of Vietnam.
“His Excellency [Prime Minister] Nguyen Tan Dung told me that just the tilapia the Vietnamese raise earns $2 billion per year,” he said. “Vietnam doesn’t have lakes like Cambodia—no Tonle Sap—but they have technology to raise fish and export fish.”
He said there were currently about 65,000 families farming fish across the country, and counted his own among them.
“Even I raise fish,” he said. “Now ask yourself: When you are retired, what will you do? Raise fish.”
The prime minister went so far as to urge those with sand quarries on their properties, once their days supplying the construction industry are over, to give the pits a second life.
“Near Phnom Penh and in some provinces, the digging has left holes. One time a helicopter flew and crashed into one,” he said, referring to an accident last year that killed four military officers.
“If the land owner turns the hole into a place to raise fish, it will be useful, because they can’t do anything else with it.”
Om Savath, who heads the Fisheries Action Coalition Team, an NGO, said fish farms were the next best option after natural stocks, whose decline he blamed on rampant illegal fishing, poor law enforcement and corruption.
“We have seen the number of natural fish decline because of illegal fishing, and the authorities do not restrict it,” he said. “Illegal fishing still happens because some bad officials collude with offenders.”