The Fisheries Administration (FA) plans to strengthen its presence in Kep province with the opening of a new cantonment there, officials announced in an official ceremony yesterday morning.
The move comes after what conservationists say has been a steady increase in illegal trawling in Kep Bay, which they say has devastated much of the marine environment, hammered fish stocks and harmed local livelihoods.
The waters off Kep have long been under the watch of Kampot province’s FA cantonment. The new offshoot, which will employ four officers, will position authorities much closer to the action.
Kuch Virak, previously the deputy director of Kampot FA, was sworn in as director of the new cantonment yesterday morning in Kep. He could not be reached for comment.
Paul Ferber, founder of Marine Conservation Cambodia, an environmental group that monitors illegal fishing in Kep in conjunction with Kampot’s FA, welcomed the new office.
“Basically, the fisheries [office] in Kampot has been doing a great job, but they’ve been stretched between two provinces,” he said. “All of the stuff we’ve been bringing to the attention of the authorities will now be able to be dealt with better because there will actually be people on the ground here. I think that’s going to make a big difference.”
Ferber said that illegal trawlers from both Cambodia and Vietnam, which he called “the biggest problem” in Kep, had benefitted enormously from the FA not having a permanent presence there.
“The moment [FA officials] would leave Kampot [for Kep], every single person in the illegal fishing communities would know they were coming, pack up their things and just wait until the officials left [Kep],” he said, referring to a network of informants that work with illegal fishermen.
It could take anywhere from one to three hours for Kampot’s FA officials to reach Kep following a call, he said.
According to Kep Deputy Governor Tep Yuthy, officials were still searching for an office space for the new cantonment. Ferber said that he had offered them a room in his group’s aquarium, though nothing had been made official.
The creation of the new cantonment coincides with a recent crackdown on illegal fishing in the Kingdom. In the first nine months of 2015, illegal fishing busts were up 150 per cent compared to the same period the previous year, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Additional reporting by Vandy Muong