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Police release fishermen, detain employers in raid on illegal nets

Fishing-boat managers remain in custody as officials maintain crackdown on use of fine-mesh nets that violate national regulations

MORE than 200 fishermen arrested last week as part of a crackdown on illegal netting were released Saturday, while 13 managers remained in custody, Pao Vuthy, chief of Kampong Chhnang prison, told the Post Monday.

The raid last Wedneday took place in a part of Tonle Sap Lake that falls within Pursat, Kampong Chhnang and Kampong Thom provinces and involved police from all three areas along with Ministry of Interior officials.

Pao Vuthy said the fishermen were released because they were merely following the orders of their employers. Those still in custody, he said, are accused of using between 1,000 and 1,500 metres of very fine netting that traps small fish in addition to larger ones that fishermen are allowed to catch.

Widespread problem

Chim Bunthoeun, chief of the Kampong Chhnang province crime office, said the use of illegal netting was widespread on Tonle Sap Lake and alleged that some officials in the Department of Fisheries had accepted bribes from fishermen.  

He said the Ministry of Interior got involved because provincial police forces did not have enough money in their budgets to carry out the crackdown.

Nao Thuok, director of the Department of Fisheries, said he should have been consulted before the raid was conducted. He could not be reached Monday for comment.

Sam Chan Kea, Kampong Chhnang provincial coordinator for the NGO Adhoc, reiterated Monday his support for the crackdown.

"It's a surprise crackdown on illegal fishing," he said. "Before, legal fishermen were hopeless and did not believe the crackdown would occur. We hope officials will continue to crack down because there are still more illegal fishing nets in this lake."

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