An inter-ministerial committee tasked with combating fisheries crimes at Tonle Sap Lake has issued a five-point action plan designed to preserve it as a natural resource for long-term public interests.

The committee, led by Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina, finalised the plan during their January 30 meeting, in the presence of National Police chief Neth Savoeun, National Military Police chief Sao Sokha and the governors of the six provinces adjacent to the lake.

Tina said in a social media post that the committee’s ongoing fight has wiped out all large-scale criminal activity, which has already led to an increase in fisheries yields in “just under one year of operations”.

According to Tina, the five-point plan includes the continuation of standby enforcement agents and aggressive patrolling to combat crimes on the lake in a “smart” and “responsible manner” to ensure long-term benefits for the people.

The third item in the plan, he said, is the authorisation for commune police working on and around the lake to search out and confiscate illegal fishing gear, especially electrical fishing tools and small-spot nets that could destroy fish breeding.

The fourth item in the plan is to open a telephone hotline for citizens to assist with the reporting, investigating and combating of fisheries crimes.

According to Tina, authorities in all the six lakeside provinces must increase educational outreach efforts aimed at local people in their respective provinces on fisheries law related matters.

He said they also need to identify the truly poor households who rely solely on fishing in order for the authorities to help them find other jobs to support their livelihoods.

“I hope that all of these actions will ensure that we have sustainable national fisheries production from Tonle Sap Lake,” he said.

Ek Chamroeun, National Project coordinator at Fisheries Action Coalition Team (FACT) – a coalition of NGOs working on fisheries and environmental issues – said the new action plan is a carryover of the commitment of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who had laid out similar ideas in the past.

“I support all actions to eradicate all crimes on Tonle Sap Lake. We all know that fisheries production dropped due to crimes and encroachment on flooded forests. So, this new plan is a continuation of the previous one the prime minister put in place,” he said.

Sok Touch, president of the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said it remains to be seen what the new plans would produce. Touch made headlines in recent years when he investigated and uncovered crimes at Tonle Sap Lake, which led the government to rezone the areas.

He told The Post on January 31 that he has often received reports from the community about fisheries crimes such as using illegal fishing tools, and he has reported those cases to the agriculture ministry.

“Now, I have security issues for myself, but I will not give up this work. I will continue my investigation,” Touch said of the threats he claimed to have received after he began investigating the crimes.

He agreed that the recent strict legal action has led to an increase in the Kingdom’s freshwater fisheries production.

According to the agriculture ministry, a total of 2,778 cases of crimes were recorded in 2022, an increase of 453 compared to the previous year. Of the total, 2,601 cases were crimes that occurred in freshwater areas, while 177 others were marine crimes.

The ministry reported that freshwater dai (stationary trawl) fisheries production reached 13,000 tonnes, beyond the expected 10,000 tonnes in 2022, an increase of 4,300 tonnes over the previous year.

The report said fisheries production represented by fishing households reached 247,900 tonnes, or 82.63 per cent of the planned 300,000 tonnes. Compared to 2021, it increased by 12,050 tonnes.