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Declining Mekong fish catch worries Ministry

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Future declines in fish catches may result in price hikes at the market next year.

A preliminary evaluation of the fish catch in the Tonle Sap and Mekong shows the

catch will decline next year unless the rivers rise rapidly enough for normal spawning to take place, the Department of Fisheries (DoF) has warned.

Nao Thuok, director general of fisheries within the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry told the Post on September 13 that an evaluation of baby fish in front of the Royal Palace found that the fish catch was down to about five "head" per cubic meter of water in the bank from 29 "head" previously.

"We are concerned about a declining fish catch next year if there is no flood to meet the level of water that allow the fish for migration to release eggs," Thuok said.

"It is September now, but the water on the bank is at a low level."

He said that the water in Beong Tonle Sap and Mekong face a lack of water for fish feeding and spawning every five to six years. The rivers need to rise high enough to reach forest areas.

Another threat is coming from over fishing upstream not only in Cambodia but in neighboring countries.

The Institutional Review of the DoF for 2006 said that the threats were coming from a rising population who depend on fisheries and other aquatic resources, few alternative livelihood opportunities for the rural poor, increasing demand for fisheries products from foreign markets, increasing use of illegal fishing and environmental degradation.

"We are not sure about the declining baby fish, but it may be more fish were caught upstream, or a lack of water for fish to release eggs, or illegal fishing," Thuok said. "If there is more flooding on the banks than there is currently, the decline will not have a serious impact."

He said that DoF will follow the situation more closely and may need to take more measures against illegal fishing.

He said that a declining fish catch next year would have a negative impact on food security, especially for farmers whose livelihood depends on making Prahok.

The report said that fishing plays an important role in food security, providing more than 75 percent of the animal protein consumed in the country and 90 percent in fishing dependent communities.

Thuok said that the fish catch has been sustainable and stable for the last ten years at 300,000 to 500,000 tons per year.

The DoF estimated that fisheries provide a livelihood for at least 2 million people.

The incidence of poverty in the agriculture and fisheries sectors is the highest of all sectors at 46 percent.

It is estimated that between $40 million to $75 million worth of fish are being exported annually.

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