A new study released by the Malaysian-based World Fish Center this week warns that Cambodia’s fisheries will be vulnerable to climate change, endangering the daily diet for the majority of the population.
The warning comes to an already struggling fish supply, which has been damaged by the loss of habitat and some main fish species.
The World Fish Center examined 132 national economies to determine which were the most vulnerable, based on environmental, dietary and economic factors in fisheries. It named 33 countries as the most vulnerable, including four in Asia: Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Yemen. Other endangered countries were identified in Africa and South America.
Lay Khim, a UNDP environment specialist, confirmed that the majority of Cambodians, especially in rural areas, consume fish as their daily diet, having limited access to other kinds of meat.
“The majority of Cambodians rely heavily on fisheries as their main source of protein,” he said. “It is true that we have the Tonle Sap lake, the Mekong river and some other small lakes, but climate change will cause strong evaporation and unseasonal rains, which can affect water sources and subsequently affect the fish population.”
According to the Ministry of Agriculture’s department of fisheries, each Cambodian consumes more than 52 kilograms of fish products annually, while each year the country produces around 750,000 tons of fish products from fresh water, the sea and farming.
Nao Thouk, director general of the department of fisheries, said Cambodia’s fish catches have not been affected yet, despite deceasing export figures in the past few years.
“Since the number of our people keeps increasing and they fear the lack of fish for their own consumption, they’ve reduced the number of exports, to between 20,000 to 30,000 tons,” he said.
The World Fish Center also warned that climate change is threatening to destroy coral reefs through a rise in ocean temperatures in some countries in South Asia. Across Southeast Asia, inland fresh water habitats could be damaged by intrusions of salt water as sea levels rise. And in South America, the concern is that climate change will alter coastal upwellings, which sustain huge catches of anchovies, sardines and other varieties of small “pelagic” fish.
Neou Bonheur, deputy secretary-general of the Tonle Sap Basin Authority, said Cambodia is currently suffering from illegal fishing, landfill in fish habitats, improper chemical use, mismanagement of solid waste and urbanization.
These will cause a long-term impact on fisheries, he said, adding that the current fish catch is at a stable level but fish are smaller, and some species, like the giant cat fish, are extinct.
“The problems driven by climate change are bad enough by themselves; what will make them much worse are the economic and institutional weaknesses of the vulnerable countries identified in this study and their fishing communities,” Steve Hall, director-general of WorldFish, said in a statement.
“Fisheries are already under tremendous pressure from over-fishing, habitat loss, pollution and a range of other factors. Climate adaptation measures must go hand in hand with efforts to confront other threats if these countries are to succeed in building a sustainable livelihood for fish-dependent people,” he said.
Despite the threats from climate change, Cambodia is not yet ready to cope with the challenges. Cambodian officials acknowledge the danger, but say the country’s capacity is not up to a protective level, while the government priority is on natural resources management.