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Fishing busts up, penalties lag

Authorities prepare to burn fishing equipment in Kep province late last month after it was seized from operations targeting illegal fishing in the area.
Authorities prepare to burn fishing equipment in Kep province late last month after it was seized from operations targeting illegal fishing in the area. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Fishing busts up, penalties lag

The first half of 2015 has seen a nearly 50 per cent increase in illegal fishing busts, though the vast majority resulted in no punishment for offenders, a new report from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries shows.

According to the report, released on Sunday, there were 1,619 recorded cases of people being caught using illegal fishing techniques between January and June this year, compared to just 1,100 cases during the same period in 2014.

Of those busts, 1,558 were on Cambodia’s rivers and lakes, while 61 took place at sea, with Agriculture Minister Ouk Rabun lamenting the damage practices like using gillnets or explosives has on the nation’s fish stock.

“It’s driving down our fish populations, so our local officials must continue working even more to crack down on it,” he said.

Yet despite the increase in busts and Rabun’s strong words, fewer than 20 per cent of cases ended in any action from authorities.

According to the report, just 94 people fronted court, while a further 229 received fines totalling 57,520,100 riel ($14,380) – an average of about $63 per case.

However, police reported confiscating the materials used for illegal fishing, including equipment used for electrocuting fish, in 1,242 cases.

Speaking yesterday, a spokesman for fishermen in Kampong Chhnang province, Chan Van, said using large batteries to electrocute fish remains rampant and largely goes unpunished.

“They use it to take a lot of fish at once, so what’s left for those of us who fish to feed our families? What can we do?” he said.

Meanwhile, Sou San, a fisherman in Kratie said he feared for the future of the industry, because the mass killings were not only killing too many, but also removing pregnant and young fish.

“The amount of fish for us to catch is decreasing one day after another, because these people do not care about the amount of fish they take, or about whether they take eggs, even in restricted areas,” he said.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the country needed to develop more fish farms to counter unsustainable fishing practices, while appealing to fishermen not to use illegal methods or fish in conservation areas.

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