Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday extended indefinitely a ban on commercial fishing in Tonle Sap lake, citing ongoing illegal fishing to the detriment of local villagers.
The premier had first imposed the ban on 35 fishing lots in the lake in August, as a result of what he said was their widespread destruction of fish resources, the Post reported at the time.
Despite government restrictions, Hun Sen claimed that illegal fishers continued to burden surrounding communities, often harassing villagers and using equipment that threatened the sustainability of the area.
As a result, the ban would be extended in order to return the Tonle Sap fishing grounds to those local villagers and to encourage conservation, he said.
“From now on, there won’t be any big business in Tonle Sap lake. Only ordinary people can catch fish [there] to support their families by using legal fishing marterials,” Hun Sen said to a graduation ceremony at the Institute of Technology in Phnom Penh.
Hun Sen emphasised the Cambodian People’s Party’s commitment to seeing the ban through.
“Even if I died today or tomorrow, my policy would not be changed by other CPP officials. I guarantee that there will no longer be fishing lots in Tonle Sap lake while the CPP is in power,” he said.
The newly extended ban covers 600,000 hectares of fishing waters in five provinces – Battambang, Siem Reap, Pursat, Kampong Thom and Kampong Chhang provinces – according to Hun Sen.
The area produced about 445,000 tonnes of fish last year, a jump from 400,000 in 2010, although government revenues from fishing had decreased because of illegal fishing, he claimed.
Illegal fishing had wreaked havoc on local fishing communities who relied on fish for subsistence, Hun Sen said yesterday.
In addition to the harassment of locals, Tonle Sap lake has seen a depletion of fish supplies as the result of illegal nets that capture younger fish, not allowing species to reproduce.
Authorities seized more than a thousand metres of illegal fishing nets in December, and the Tonle Sap Authority had stepped up its enforcement of the activity, the Post previously reported.
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries secretary of state Por Try said yesterday the decision was the right one for the population living at Tonle Sap lake.
“It will help people raise their living standard, as they have more chance to fish for consumption and sell some to the market as well,” he said.
Por Try said two legal fishing lots still existed in Banteay Meanchey, but that commercial fishing there was allowed because there had been few problems there.
Fishing experts have said the ban will benefit local residents, but some questioned the government’s ability to regulate the area.
“It’s a good way to increase fish yields and breeding. But if the government does not set up a clear and transparent mechanism to control it, his words are useless,” Om Sovath, executive director of the Fisheries Action Coalition Team, said yesterday.
A coalition among the Fisheries Administration officials, the local authority and community representatives should be created to make sure illegal fishing remained halted, Om Sovath said.