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Fishers Report Rampant Corruption, Major Depletion of Fisheries

Cambodian workers collect fish which will be made into a traditional pickled fish, locally known as Prahok, at the river bank of the Tonle Sap, file photo.

Representatives of fishing communities say illegal operations are critically threatening the nation’s fisheries.

Corruption and collusion between authorities and illegal fishermen are at the root of the problem, they say.

More than 100 representatives from these communities met in Phnom Penh Friday, in an effort to find ways to curb the practice, which threaten a major food source for millions of Cambodians.

The fishers came from provinces along the Tonle Sap river system, the Mekong River and coastal areas. They recently conducted a fact-finding mission in those areas, between June 12 and June 15, which is typically a period where fishing is banned. Teams were supported by the Fishery Action Coalition.

Team members said they found illegal fishing at hundreds of locations across the country. Illegal methods included the clearing of flooded forests, pumping of lakes and streams, large-scale machinery and other banned practices. In some areas, the illegal activities were undertaken by Cambodian fishermen. In others, the offenders were Thai or Vietnamese, team members say.

“Illegal fishing is a collusion between the offenders and the authorities, so it’s hard for us to catch them,” said Long Sochet, who comes from a community on the Tonle Sap. “Some offenders have confessed to us that they have to pay more than $2,500 per season to the authorities.”

Fish are the main source of protein for many Cambodians, who consume about 63 kilograms of fish per year.

But fish production has sharply decreased in recent years, mainly due to illegal operations, fishers said.

“In the past, we could catch about 10 kilograms of fish per day, but now, we can catch only a few kilograms,” said Peng Komthon, a fisherman from Takeo province. “We cannot eat enough with the current amount of fish we’re catching.”

Fisheries officials say they are trying to curb illegal activities, but they need names from fishermen.

“Collusion is the crime of corruption, so if they know which officials are corrupt, please clearly state their names,” Oeung Try, deputy general of the Fishery Administration. “We will listen and enforce the law.”

Local reps say they have made such reports many times, but they have seen no action. Following Friday’s meeting, the teams issued petitions to ministries and embassies in Phnom Penh, seeking intervention.