ASENIOR official has denied that a large-scale sand-dredging operation in Koh Kong province is responsible for plummeting fish catches.
More than 300 fishermen from three districts gathered in Koh Kong town on October 19 to call for authorities to halt the operation, which they say has jeopardised thousands of local livelihoods.
“There is no oil spilling into the seawater that is causing the death of the fishes as the villagers are claiming,” said Lim Kean Hor, minister of water resources and meteorology and the chairman of the government’s commission on sand-dredging, which visited Koh Kong this week.
“All dredging operators are only authorised to operate in the estuaries with the full inspection of the commission.”
In March, the Post reported that thousands of tonnes of sand were being removed from coastal estuaries in Koh Kong and exported to Singapore as part of a joint venture between the Hong Kong-based Winton Enterprises and the LYP Group, reportedly owned by CPP Senator Ly Yongphat.
Local residents, however, remain unconvinced of the government’s oversight.
“The people who complained about the dredging operation are living in the area” and affected by it, said Ros Math, the chief of Group IV village in Dang Tung commune. “The company continues to dredge all day and sometimes at night as well.”
Paul Ferber, founder of Marine Conservation Cambodia, said that the past six months had seen a “huge increase” in the number of Koh Kong fishing trawlers detained by local authorities in Preah Sihanouk province, apparently driven south by declining fish catches.
“The word from the fishermen is that there is nothing to catch in the waters around Koh Kong. They’re struggling to keep their catches up,” he said.
Environmentalists say sand-dredging carries a high risk of long-term degradation to coastal areas.
“We are worried about the dredging of sand from Cambodia [and its export] to other countries,” said Om Savath, programme manager at the Fisheries Action Coalition Team, adding that the use of large pumps to remove sand from the sea bed could have a “strong” impact, including the disruption of fish spawning grounds.
Lim Kean Hor confirmed that 14 sand-mining concessions have been granted in coastal areas in Koh Kong, Preah Sihanouk and Kampot provinces.
The licences were awarded despite a ban on sand exports announced by Prime Minister Hun Sen in May and July this year.