Prime minister Hun Sen announced yesterday that 35 privately owned fishing lots in the Tonle Sap lake had been seized by the government due to their widespread destruction of fish resources.
The enclosed lots, often measuring several square kilometres, are surrounded by netting.
The operation of the lots will be suspended for at least three years, “in order to increase fish populations”, Hun Sen said. Non-commercial “family fishing” will still be allowed in the lake, he said, adding that
some of the seized lots would be set aside as protected areas.
Speaking out strongly against fishing-lot owners during an inauguration of an upgrade of National Road 1 in Kandal province, the prime minister said that many had been using banned gill nets, harvesting fish under the legal size limit, and using the poisonous chemical acetylene to drive fish out of flooded forests and into their lots.
“The owners of the fishing lots and local fisheries officials are lucky that they’re not being taken to court,” Hun Sen said, adding that the 35 lots were spread over Battambang, Siem Reap, Pursat, Kampong Thom and Kampong Chhnang provinces.
The prime minister said he had ordered Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Chan Sarun to confiscate all illegal fishing gear from the Tonle Sap lots.
“If the owners complain that they can’t fish while Hun Sen is prime minister, then they can vote against me,” he said.
Om Savath, deputy director of NGO Fisheries Action Coalition Team, welcomed the decision, saying, “we have been urging political decision-makers to do this for years”.
“This is a good opportunity for fishermen to be able to better manage Tonle Sap fisheries and it will facilitate more sustainable fishing practices that support local community livelihoods,” he said, adding that it could also help protect threatened aquatic species.
Ly Savuth, the owner of a fishing lot in Pursat province, said “this is the government’s policy, so let them do it”, declining to comment further.