Conservationists have expressed alarm over the increase in the mortality rate of Irrawaddy dolphins in Cambodia’s Mekong River last year, compared to previously.
The director of the Fisheries Conservation Department, Ouk Vibol, said on Wednesday: “Though we are happy at the birth of 13 dolphins last year, we are also concerned with the spike in the death rate recorded in the same year.
“Six dolphins were reported to have died last year – the highest number when compared to previous years.”
He said in 2017, only two Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River had died while 10 were born. The year after, five dolphins died and nine were born.
A forensic examination revealed that 90 per cent of the dolphins died after getting entangled in fishing nets while the remaining 10 per cent died either from old age or after being attacked by male dolphins.
At a Senate meeting on the management and conservation of fish stocks on January 3, Senator Khieu Muth urged specialists and the relevant authorities, as well as fishing communities living around dolphin conservation areas, to participate in strengthening and increasing patrols in the vicinity.
“The Mekong River dolphins have helped to promote the Kingdom’s tourism, which in turn, has helped create more jobs and raise living standards among community residents. This has also generated income for the National Budget.
“So, we have to step up to ensure the protection of these precious our dolphins,” he said.
Kratie provincial Fisheries Administration head Sean Kin told The Post on Wednesday that last year, river guards, in cooperation with local authorities and the fishing community, cracked down on illegal fishing operations and seized 323 illegal fishing nets spanning a combined length of 20,030m and 115 fishing lines with 12,500 hooks.
The fishermen illegally committed the offence in the Anlong Kampi Irrawaddy dolphin conservation area.
“Last year, our river guards detained six offenders in the Anlong Kampi Irrawaddy dolphin conservation area and seized three motorboats and three electrical fishing equipment as evidence.
“The guards sent the evidence to the Kratie provincial court which sentenced each of them to one to three years in prison,” said Kin.
He said his working group also seized 192 fishing nets – equivalent to a length of 15,090m, 105 traps (2,000m), and 36,000 bamboo poles from other lakes and rivers.
They released young fish of different species, weighing a total of 123kg, back into the lakes.
“The majority of the offences were committed at night. We have between two and six river guards per administrative station. For safety reasons, they cannot patrol the areas without the participation of local authorities. The budget for conducting the patrols is limited too,” Kin said.
Vibol said the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries had previously considered recruiting more river guards to assist in the patrols. However, the recruitment plan was postponed due to limited funds.
“However, the ministry had increased our budget to strengthen efforts in patrolling nine dolphin conservation areas from the Anlong Kampi in Kratie to Stung Treng province, which borders the Laotian waters,” he said.