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Fishermen sit in boats near floating houses in Kandal province earlier this month after relocating from Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district
Fishermen sit in boats near floating houses in Kandal province earlier this month after relocating from Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district. Hong Menea

Floating houses come back

A fishing community that abandoned a stretch of the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district earlier this month after dead fish began appearing in the water have brought their floating houses back home, authorities and community representatives said yesterday.

The 29 families who live on houseboats returned to their village from Kandal province’s Lvea Em district a few days ago, believing that pollutants had flowed downstream and were no longer causing harm, community representative Mot Hosan said.

However, their return may have been premature, Akrei Khsat commune police chief Ann Penh said.

“We wanted them to stay away for a few days to avoid the dead fish, but they claimed the Mekong River’s currents had already pushed the pollutants away,” Penh said, adding that the community began returning on Saturday.

Members of the community, some of whom have lived in the area since the fall of the Khmer Rouge, began moving on June 1. More than a tonne of fish were dying every day, villagers said last week, resulting in a massive depletion of daily income and food.

Villagers blamed industrial factories operating in Russey Keo district as one reason for the spate of fish deaths, while District Deputy Governor Ly Rozamie blamed low water levels and high temperatures.
“What caused these fish to die was a change in the water currents between the rainy season and the dry season,” she said.

While Rozamie last week promised that environmental and fishery experts would examine the water, villagers say this has yet to happen.

On a wider scale, Cambodia’s freshwater fish are facing a threat from changes in temperature resulting from climate change, Ian Baird, a professor and fisheries expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said.

“Essentially, Mekong fish are believed to be sensitive to changes in temperature, and so significant changes in temperatures resulting from human-induced climate change could have devastating impacts on fish stocks in Cambodia, particularly in relation to fish production,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AMELIA WOODSIDE

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