Government says that improved management of the sector is behind increase, but critics question whether latest figures are accurate.
Fisherman retrieve their catch in Kampot province. Officials report a good catch for 2008, despite complaints from civil society.
LOCAL fishermen are reporting a 15 percent increase in freshwater catches for 2008 compared with the previous year, with officials citing better enforcement of environmental rules. Meanwhile, saltwater catches remained stable.
The government cracked down on illegal fishing during the spawning season, which has boosted local freshwater populations, the director of the Department of Fishery Administration, Nao Thuok, told the Post.
"My major task is to find ways to increase fish production to meet high demand for export, especially for prahok and smoked fish - my next priority is to make sure prices fall," said Nao Thuok.
Prahok is a local delicacy made from fermented mud fish. The government expects 8,000 tonnes of prahok and salted fish will be produced this year.
Total fish production was more than 497,000 tonnes, including 391,000 tonnes of freshwater fish, 66,000 tonnes of marine fish and 40,000 tonnes of farmed fish. The ministry estimated local demand was around 700,000 tonnes per year while more than 1,000 tonnes of farmed fish were imported from Thailand, Vietnam and Japan. He said that between 20,000 and 30,000 tonnes of river fish are exported to Vietnam, Thailand, China, Singapore, Malaysia, the US and Australia each year.
Even with the global economic slowdown, fish prices have remained stable.
But Touch Eng, a fish vendor at Kab Kor market, said that fish prices have increased, even with the strong fish catches.
GOVERNMENT HAS TO ENCOURAGE LOCAL FISHERMEN, NOT ONLY FISHERY LOT OWNERS.
"I cannot earn much because the fish price has increased this year. ... A lot of fish are being imported from Vietnam, and our country cannot catch its own fish, which keeps the prices high."
Opposition lawmaker Yim Sovann said that the poor are not profiting from local catches and that government officials have favoured large fishing lot owners.
"I don't believe that fish catches or incomes are increasing," he said. "People are not benefiting from fishing. The government has to encourage local fishermen, not only fishery lot owners."
Illegal poaching from Thailand and Vietnam is also a serious problem, he added.
Yim Sovann said that fishermen had been shot trying to prevent poachers and that corruption was preventing authorities from enforcing regulations.
However, Nao Thuok said that the ministry has put poverty reduction at the centre of fishing policy and that civil society has been consulted on fisheries policy.
But poor regulation was cited as a major problem in a recent publication by the NGO Forum on Cambodia, an umbrella organisation representing 80 nongovernmental organisations. The paper pressed for better government oversight saying "fisheries resources, both inland and marine fisheries, are under threat". The paper urged the government to pass a code of conduct for fisheries and complained that the draft code is more than one year overdue.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY GEORGE MCLEOD