Tonle Sap illegal fishers curbed

Mayuri Mei Lin​ / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Zeb Hogan (center) with Nao Thuk at the launch of the Mekong conservation project. KT/Mai Vireak

The Fisheries Ministry said yesterday that large-scale illegal fishing was no longer an issue on the Tonle Sap river and lake, thanks to continuing enforcement efforts.
However, the ministry’s secretary of state Nao Thuk admitted that villagers often reverted to their old ways of using illegal gear or overfishing when enforcement officers were not there.
“Now when we deploy our patrol team, with the inter-ministerial staff and especially the police, large-scale illegal fishing stopped,” he said on the sidelines of an event in Phnom Penh yesterday.
“For the moment it is not an issue but when we leave, the villagers continue illegal fishing so we need to constantly monitor it,” he added.
He said this after speaking at the launch of the “Wonders of the Mekong project,” a collaboration involving USAID, the University of Nevada and the Cambodian government to improve conservation efforts on the Mekong River.
Despite the government not making any specific pledge or policy change for the cause, he insisted that they were committed to ensuring the preservation of the marine-rich river.
He admitted, however, that the ministry is constantly grappling with a lack of funding and manpower.
“Yes funding is an issue. The value of fisheries in Cambodia is about $1.2 billion and we have only around $1 million to patrol. That’s 0.01 percent of the total value of the fisheries,” he said.
The government has repeatedly issued warnings against illegal fishing, going so far as to threaten officials with being fired should illegal fishing be found in their patrol areas.
Last month, Interior Minister Sar Kheng ordered government task forces to increase enforcement of illegal fishing on the Tonle Sap by going after the ringleaders in a bid to stamp out the activity.
The Tonle Sap, which drains into the Mekong, is one of the main food sources for many Cambodians and is one of the most diverse bodies of water in the world.
National Geographic’s. Zeb Hogan, who heads the “Wonders of the Mekong” project, said yesterday that conservation of the Mekong, which he called “the most important river on Earth,” was crucial because it is home to more than 1,000 species of fish and has the biggest number of giant river fish in the world.
He said the $5 million project aimed to preserve and maintain the health and functionality of the river by protecting endangered species through sustainable development projects.
But when asked if the ongoing dams on the Mekong in Laos was a cause of concern, he remained coy.
“One of the objectives of this project is to preserve a functional Mekong River so we will be working with the Cambodian government to try to explore ways to maintain the health and functionality of the river,” he said.
A third Mekong hydropower project, in Laos’ territory of the lower Mekong basin, was officially given the green light recently.
Dams on the Mekong, upon which the livelihoods of millions depend, have faced repeated criticism from villagers and environmental activists, who say such projects affect both the ecosystem of marine life as well as agriculture on nearby land.

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