PURSAT Province - An ongoing ban on large fishing nets for non-commercial fishing has made life difficult for many families on the Tonle Sap lake.
Residents in the floating villages here say they rely on fish to feed their families, but they are only allowed to use nets 50 meters in length or shorter. The ban, intended to mitigate overfishing of dwindling stocks in the Tonle Sap, is seasonal, but the ban has been extended from the end of July to the end of September.
Sitting in her boat at the village of Preak, Raing Til commune, in Pursat, Chan Ry said she could once catch 40 kilograms to 50 kilograms of fish per day with larger nets hundreds of meters in length. With the shorter net required by the new regulations, she catches only a few kilograms of fish each day.
So the 23-year-old does what many here on the lake do. She breaks the law and uses longer nets. “Because my family is poor, I have to do it,” she said. “When they found out, I’ll stop doing that.”
Villagers here, who are ethnically Khmer or Vietnamese, depend on the fish for daily survival. There is little else they can do out here on the lake.
Thath Yem, who is the wife of the commune chief of Rain Til, says she too depends on fishing for her family. She said she supports a ban on the commercial fishing that has devastated fish stocks, but she also said there are too many restrictions on families who fish on a small scale.
“The small fishermen catch only small fish,” she said. “Those using large fishing nets can catch big fish even in the middle of the river. With this small fishing net, we can only afford to feed our stomach.”
Long Sochet, the head of the nationwide Coalition of Cambodian Fishermen, said the 50-meter net restriction does little except force villagers to break the law. “They cannot feed their families, so they will increase the length of their nets,” he said.
Local officials from the Ministry of Agricultures fisheries department agree. They say the ban on longer nets is impractical, but that it is the decision of the national government and must be followed.
“We will request a revision of the restriction later after we assess that it is really not appropriate and suitable,” said Put Sunly, deputy head of Pursat’s fisheries administration. “But for now we have to implement it first, as it is stated in the ministry’s [regulations], with the prime minister’s note.”