Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a direct order for the country's armed forces to assist
fishery officials in halting illegal fishing practices on September 1, said government
officials at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF).
The prakas, signed by Hun Sen, prohibits fisherman from using banned fishing techniques
such as electro-shock equipment and mosquito-net methods.
The prakas states the order is in response to "the challenging situation while
waiting for the fisheries law [to be passed] to prevent anarchic fishing practices".
It directs "armed forces of all types" to cooperate with fishery officials
to "immediately eliminate [use of] all types of prohibited fishing equipment"
and the "production, sales, transport and possession" of the gear.
The legislation comes at a critical time for Cambodia's fisheries and the regulatory
legislation to manage them. The fisheries law, juggled between lawmaking bodies for
almost two years now, is making its way through the Council of Ministers. It is expected
to be approved next year.
Scientists have noted with alarm that Cambodia's fisheries, most notably the Tonle
Sap lake, have yielded fewer and fewer mature fish in recent decades.
While the total catch has remained relatively stable, about 400,000 tonnes in 2001,
individual fishermen are catching less.
The average fisherman today catches only about 10 kilograms (kg) per day, down from
about 40 kg in 1942, according to recent studies.
Fishery biologists speculated that a surplus of fish, built up during the years of
the Khmer Rouge when large-scale fishing effectively ceased, has almost been exhausted.
The juvenile fish being caught now are the end of that boom.
But even these populations are being intensively harvested, particularly with indiscriminate
methods like dynamite and electro-shock fishing.
"This is a problem," said an official in the Department of Fisheries under
MAFF, who asked not to be named.
"Foreign fisherman illegally enter Cambodian waters and trawl in prohibited
zones. High ranking soldiers in the Navy also use dynamite to harvest fish."
At the moment, he said, law enforcement simply "doesn't work".
He said both the new fisheries law and the prakas from the Prime Minister had to
"come together" for real change to occur.
"It needs strong encouragement from the Prime Minister," he said.