But experts warn that an increase in illegal fishing could be partially responsible for the impressive catches this year
Photo by: Tracey Shelton
A fish at a farm in Pursat province. This year’s catch is up, but conservationists warn of illegal fishing and habitat destruction.
A GRICULTURE officials this week said freshwater fish production is expected to increase 15 percent over last year, amid claims by provincial fishermen and development organisations that illegal fishing and land reclamation continues to threaten their livelihood.
Nao Thuok, director of the Department of Fisheries at the Ministry of Agriculture, credited a more aggressive program of fish farming for the spike in production.
"We expect that freshwater fish production will increase to 402,500 tonnes this year because the government has expanded the number of fish farms nationwide to 154 and released millions of baby fish into natural lakes," he told the Post on Monday.
Cambodia processed some 350,000 tonnes of freshwater fish last year, Nao Thuok said, adding that between 20,000 and 50,000 tonnes were exported.
He said Cambodia also imports between 4,000 and 5,000 tonnes per year from Thailand, Vietnam and Japan, principally to satisfy rising demand from Phnom Penh's high-end restaurants.
Despite an expected drop in exports in the future to meet local demand, Nao Thuok said Cambodia's exports this year will likely top 30,000 tonnes.
But area fishermen and development aid organisations see a different picture in the fisheries sector.
Mark Sithirith, executive director of the Fisheries Action Coalition Team (FACT), said freshwater fish output this year took into account fish caught illegally, skewing the figures.
He added that coming years' totals would likely drop as illegal fishing depletes stocks and growing numbers of natural lakes fall prey to developers.
"Fishermen who live near Tonle Sap lake told FACT they now catch less than 10 kilograms per day, with most of the fish being quite small. But last year, they say they caught more than 20 kilograms per day on average during the dry season," Mark Sithirith said.
Fisherman Yon Yeounin, from Kampong Chhnang province, said his village faces shortages as the fish paste production season is set to begin.
"I think fishing output this year will be lower. Some of the flooded forests were cut off for rice production," he said.
"In early December last year, I could catch 45 kilograms of fish per day. Now I can catch only 25 kilograms in a day."
Aom Chhim, 56, a fisherman in Siem Reap province, also expected fish production to drop this year and blamed the use of illegal nets and reclamation of spawning grounds for rice paddy.
"The flooded forest areas that usually serve as spawning grounds were used instead for paddy fields," he said.