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Tonle Sap Failing Fishermen


[Editor's note: In the weeks leading into national polls, VOA Khmer will explore a wide number of election issues. The "Election Issues 2008" series will air stories on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a related "Hello VOA" guest on Thursday. This is the first in a two-part series examining the fate of the Tonle Sap.]

The decline in the number of fish in the Tonle Sap is threatening Cambodia’s fishing villages, and experts worry large numbers will continue to fall if no clear measures are taken to curb illegal fishing.

Fishing villagers in Chhnok Trou, Kampong Chhnang province, say fish have declined 50 percent in recent years. The drop was due to the use of illegal fishing implements, they say.

Un Phala, 55, said before 2005 her fish haul could reach up to hundreds of kilograms per day, but this year she and her family can’t find fish beyond 6 kilograms per day.

“The fisheries are being ruined from day to day, and I am worried that there will be no more fish in the future,” she said, stitching a net under an old wooden house. “We are getting poorer, and some people, they have nothing to eat.”

Chhnok Trou is the largest fishing area in Kampong Chhnang, some 130 kilometers from the capital. About 90 percent of the population of 10,000 are fishermen who live in poverty. Their small wooden houses sit on water littered with debris.

Sam Rith Peng, Chhnok Trou’s commune chief, acknowledged that there were many illegal fishing implements being used in the provinces along the Tonle Sap, decreasing the fish supply each year.

Chhnok Trou fishermen caught a total of 50 tons of fish this year, compared to 100 tons last year, he said.

“This decline could badly affect people whose livings depend on fishing,” he said. “Their economy will be jumping down.”

The Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, with the potential to produce up to 230,000 tons of fish per year. But experts say the number has been declining due to human activity.

“We can see large amounts of fish decreasing every year,” said Mak Sithirith, director of the Fishery Action Coalition Team. “So if there is no certain measure to cope with the illegal fishing equipment, fish product automatically declines, and it will affect fishing people in the future.”

Facing the decline of fish and illegal fishing methods, villagers of this community say they are looking for their elected leaders to do something, or leave their positions.

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