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Fishermen Say They Are Forced Into Illegal Catches

Local fishermen on the Tonle Sap lake in the province of Battambang say they continue to fish illegally during the off-season.

In interviews with VOA Khmer, the fishermen said they have no choice but to continue fishing, sometimes with banned equipment, in order to feed their families, despite a three-month ban instituted by the government that begins each July.

“The ban is like breaking our rice pot,” said 53-year-old fisherman Chhun Leang.

He sat in a wooden house on the great lake, in the floating village of Anlung Ta Our, in Ek Phnom district, and when boats passed their wakes shook his home.

“Unlike the people on land who are farmers, we fishermen have no land for farming,” he said. “We only depend on fishing.”

Commercial fishing for the next three months is forbidden. This is the breeding season. Small nets and handmade gear are allowed, but fishermen like Chhun Leang say that isn't enough.

He earns about $250 a month, working a medium-sized net rig that is banned this time a year. Even if these were permitted, he said, these days he barely catches enough fish to feed his family.

“So despite the ban, myself and other fishermen in the commune still secretly fish with our rigging,” he said. There are crackdowns, he said, but he keeps fishing. “Otherwise, we cannot survive.”

His neighbor five houses down, Yon Phann, agreed.

“If we didn’t do it, we would have nothing to eat,” he said, looking at fishing nets hanging on a nearby wall. “Fishing is our farming here.”

More than 70 percent of the 10,000 people living in this commune, Koh Chi Verng, are fishermen. The rest sell goods or repair boats.

Commune Chief Bun Beng said that every year people face hard times during the three-month ban, so at times he turns a blind eye to some illegal fishing.

“They can catch just a kilo or two of fish a day, and they sell it for rice to eat,” he said in an interview at his own floating house. “This is all they can do here because we have no rice to harvest.”

On the other hand, he said, he advises people not to use heavy rigging during the ban, and he encourages them to breed fish and raise eels to supplement their catches.

Nao Thuok, head of Agriculture Ministry’s fishery administration, said there is no exception for any particular fishing community in the use of banned gear this season.

“Any such act will be cracked down on,” he said. “This is according to the law, which must be implemented to benefit all the people across the country, not just that particular community or a small number of others.”

“All floating communities around the Tonle Sap should only fish for family consumption during this ban season,” he said, “so that more fish can breed for them to catch at the end of the season.”