On the heels of a year in which the deaths of endangered Irrawaddy dolphins rose – as much as 100 per cent by some estimates – the government is paving the way for greater enforcement of conservation measures along a protected stretch of the Mekong.
Touch Seang Tana, chairman of the Commission for Mekong River Dolphin Conservation and Ecotourism Development, said that the government is planning to establish four manned outposts in Stung Treng province along the Ramsar – an island-studded stretch of the Mekong extending south from the Lao border, which is included in Cambodia’s 180-kilometre dolphin conservation zone but has been under-policed until now.
“This should be a conservation area, because it is the main area where fish reproduce, and where Irrawaddy [dolphins] travel from Laos,” Seang Tana said.
He also suggested that the WWF and relevant government ministries focus on the area, singling it out for the prevalence of illegal fishing there.
“Illegal fishing methods such as electrical fishing, bombs – it is so anarchic,” Seang Tana said, noting that proper dolphin conservation could be a boon for tourism, especially from Laos.
Seang Tana put last year’s dolphin death toll at six, up from three in 2011.
However, Gordon Congdon, freshwater conservation manager for the WWF, said in an email that his figures placed last year’s deaths at eight – including five calves – up from five deaths in 2011, with the reasons for the increase still unknown.
A meeting between the WWF, the Fisheries Administration and the dolphin commission in January of 2012 found that “based on post-mortem examinations, gillnet entanglement is the main cause of death of adult Mekong dolphins”, but that “the cause of death for the majority of dolphins that died around the time of birth (calves) could not be determined”.
“High levels of calf mortality have been observed over [more than] 10 years of mortality investigations, and this is a serious threat to the persistence of the population,” he added.
On Monday, four fishermen were sent to court after being arrested for using illegal electrical implements to shock and catch fish in the section of the dolphin conservation zone that flows through Kratie province’s Sambor district.
Kratie Fisheries Administration chief Sean Kin said that police and river guards arrested the men early in the morning, seizing their electrical implements and their boat’s engine.
“Two of them are under age,” Kin said. “According to article 98 of the fisheries law, the suspects could face a sentence of three to five years.”
Congdon called the fishing method “destructive”, “harmful to the sustainable management of fisheries and potentially a threat to dolphins”.