When authorities in Kampong Chhnang province on Friday encountered and pursued the boat of alleged illegal fisherman Chieb Ou, they couldn’t have expected to find themselves being chased instead.
But that’s precisely what happened when, rather than surrendering, the 42-year-old suspect turned his boat towards the pursuing officers and attempted to ram their vessel, deputy provincial fisheries chief Seng Bun Chhern said.
The authorities were forced to flee to safety, eventually returning with 12 men in five boats to take Ou into custody for allegedly fishing with banned electric equipment.
“We never go to crack down alone, because it is dangerous on the river or lake when we meet illegal fishing groups,” Chhern said. “They seem crueller than in the past, and they dare to fight back against us, so we have to come in a group for safety.”
According to a report from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) obtained yesterday, arrests for illegal fishing are up to 1,100 in the first six months of 2014, a 50 per cent increase from the 732 cases in the same period last year.
Meanwhile, Chhern said yesterday that illegal fishermen are becoming more brazen than ever, and the MAFF says new measures are in the works, with the aim of both protecting authorities’ safety and increasing their effectiveness.
In November, two police officers drowned while in pursuit of illegal fishermen in Kampong Chhnang province.
More recently, a commune police chief in Kampong Cham province’s Srey Santhor district disappeared last month while investigating illegal fishing in some nearby Mekong wetlands. His body was later discovered with knife wounds to the head. Three suspects were arrested earlier this month in connection with the death.
Minister of Agriculture Ouk Rabun indicated in the MAFF report that the recent deaths were part of the motivation to bolster enforcement efforts, particularly by building new patrol stations with the aim of encouraging officers to work in groups rather than going out on the Kingdom’s waterways alone.
“The ministry will build 16 patrol stations in conservation areas in some provinces for effective illegal fishing crackdowns, and we will urge officials to keep themselves safe during any crackdown,” he was quoted as saying.
Sao Kosal, deputy director of the provincial fisheries administration, said that despite the apparent increase in resistance from illegal fishermen, “it is our obligation to crackdown on illegal action in fisheries to increase fishery income”.
Indeed, the rise in arrests has also meant an increase in revenues, with the government collecting almost $490,000 from fines in the first six months of 2014, compared with about $350,000 last year.
Oum Chhim, a representative of the fishery community in Siem Reap province, said yesterday that the government’s annual months-long spawning season ban on fishing in certain areas – which began in June – was unlikely to deter illegal fishermen.
“Our group will patrol to investigate illegal fishing in the ban season,” he said. “There is still illegal fishing, even though the government called on them to stop.”