While Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries aims to increase fish production by 1.3 per cent this year, members of fishery organisations believe that is an unlikely target as drought conditions have tapped out natural resources.
According to ministry’s annual report issued last week, fresh water fish production declined by more than 3 per cent last year. With production amounting to 487,905 tonnes in 2015, the ministry aims to increase that number modestly to 494,000 tonnes this year.
The annual report emphasised that the main challenges facing production include the burning of flooded conservation forests and illegal fishing. However, Minh Bunly, program coordinator for the Fishery Action Coalition Team, said that the main concern was that drought conditions have caused persistently low water levels that have reduced vital breeding grounds.
According to him, 70 per cent of prime fishery conservation areas are facing unseasonably low water levels.
“Based on the current situation, there is no hope of increasing this year’s production,” he said.
“If the government does not address the current challenges, things will remain the same or get worse.”
However, Eng Chea San, director general for the fishery administration at the Ministry of Agriculture, said that a small 1.3 per cent increase was achievable despite the challenges.
“It is hard to increase production,” he admitted. “But what we can at the very least maintain the current level of production, with the possibility of achieving 1 per cent growth.”
However, Bunly believes that fish production faces a far harsher reality then what the ministry’s official figures suggest.
According to figures presented by the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology and used by the World Food Programme, low water levels have led to a loss of 17 per cent in last year’s fish production.
“I believe that 17 per cent is a more accurate number than what the ministry published in their annual report. The fishing conditions are a lot worse than a 3 per cent drop, and many resources are at risk,” said Bunly.
Hel Tony, secretariat of Tonle Sap Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology, declined to comment on the figures as he had yet to see the report.