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Fish smuggling continues near Lao border

Fish smuggling continues near Lao border

Asmuggler and his 300 kilogram consignment of endangered fish were seized on the

Lao border then released January 26 after political pressure was applied to the

arresting authorities.

Peng Kim, the second deputy governor of Stung

Treng, organized the arrests, but claimed provincial officials were forced to

release the man after she was overruled by a higher provincial

authority.

"I ordered the fish seized according to the regulation banning

trade in endangered fish species," she said. "However after intervention from

above they had to release the trafficker. This case has proved very

difficult."

Kim, who is in charge of agriculture, forestry and fisheries

in the province, said this was the first time provincial authorities had seized

a consignment of endangered fish. Although the practice was widespread, finding

evidence was very difficult.

"I am completely against smugglers who

traffic in wildlife and endangered fish species," she said. "But every time

there is intervention from the top to release the traffickers. I am very

disappointed. The illegal smugglers just laugh at me."

Nao Thouk, head of

the fisheries department, confirmed that smuggling tree trawsak, also known as

the seven-line barb, was illegal. He said all trade in endangered fish species

was banned by sub-decree 33 issued in 1987. He said he was yet to get official

notice of this case, but would send staff to investigate.

Acting director

of the Culture and Environment Preservation Association, Tep Bunnarith, said

endangered species continued to be threatened on the Upper Mekong. Fishermen

regularly caught them for sale, while the authorities often excused their poor

enforcement by claiming a lack of facilities allowing them to monitor the

situation.

"Weak action from provincial authorities does seem to

encourage the illegal smugglers to commit more abuses," he said, adding that

preservation required participation from the local community.

"Only

community fisheries can preserve the mother fish or endangered fish species,"

said Bunnarith. "But so far in Stung Treng there has been very slow progress in

setting up community fisheries."

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