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Overfishing hurting dolphins

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5-story-1.jpg

Officials in Stung Treng say illegal exports of fish to Laos are

depleting the food stocks of the Irrawaddy dolphins, which are a

popular tourist attraction

Photo by: Tracey Shelton

Officials in Stung Treng province warn that overfishing is threating Cambodia’s dolphin population.

OVERFISHING on the Mekong River in Stung Treng province is depleting the food stocks of freshwater dolphins living there and could force the rare animals to leave the area in what officials say would be a catastrophe for the local tourism industry.

"If there are not enough fish for the dolphins to live near the shore, they will go back to live in the sea and tourism will suffer," Touch Seang Tana, a fisheries expert who works for the Council of Ministers, told the Post last week.

"The lack of fish this season has been caused by fishermen who fish in Cambodian waters and then export the fish to Laos," he said, adding that such exports are illegal but perpetrators are rarely caught or punished.

"We need to find a way to prevent overfishing," Touch Seang Tana said, adding that the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries should intervene.

But Tum Nyro, the deputy administrator for the ministry's Fisheries Department in Stung Treng, said it was hard for the department to stop overfishing and illegal exports. 

"While we have a law against illegally exporting fish, we don't have our staff at the actual border to enforce it," he said.  

According to Touch Seang Tana, between two and three tonnes of fish are exported from Cambodia to Laos daily. This severely depletes fish stocks and the lack of food may soon force the dolphins to migrate, he said.

"September to February is the dolphin's breeding season, and if they do not have enough to eat during this time they will have a very tough time," Touch Seang Tana said, adding that there are currently about 150 dolphins in the river and if they left the local tourism industry would suffer.

Tourism suffers

"If the dolphins leave the river, this will really impact my standard of living because my family depends on the income from tourists who come to see the dolphins," said local tour boat operator Song Dary.

He said the number of dolphins close to the shore has decreased this season.

"Dolphins only eat half of the body of the fish and leave the other half floating in the river. I haven't seen very many half-eaten fish bodies floating in the river this season," he said. 

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