Phnom Penh area residents may have noticed an unusual sight this week as they looked out onto the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers – an armada of floating homes anchored near the Chroy Changvar bridge.
According to the boats’ inhabitants, who raise fish underneath their floating homes in Russei Keo district’s Chraing Chamreh I commune, the move was prompted by a mass die-off of fish last weekend due to increasing water temperatures.
But the floating homes, which have set up in what is technically Chroy Changvar district, have drawn widespread anger, sometimes tinged with racism, from Facebook users, who accuse them of dirtying the waters and sullying the view.
“I wonder why the floating homes move to the middle [of the] river near [the] Chroy Changvar bridge . . . did the authorities allow them or not? It looks messy and pollutes the environment,” wrote one Facebook user on Monday. Another commentator, pointing out that the floating homes belong to “yuon”, a sometimes derogatory term for ethnic Vietnamese, asked: “[did] the authorities see or not?”
Inhabitants of the floating homes insist their move is temporary and a matter of economic survival.
“This year it is very hot and I lost 1 tonne of fish,” said Thin Than, 35, who explained that the families expected the deeper waters near the city to be cooler. “Last year, my fish did not die as much as this year and we are very worried.”
Fisherman Sa Kada, 40, said that he only intends to stay in the district for a few days in order to expose his fish to cooler waters.
“Please help us, we do not disturb someone else, we just worry about our fish dying,” he said.
Chroy Changvar Commune Chief Pich Saroeun said that while the fishing families did not request permission to stay in his commune, he expects they will only stay long enough to “change water” for their fish.
Nao Thouk, the Secretary of State of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, explained that fishing families move along the Tonle Sap River each year as water temperatures change.
The owners only need verbal permission from local authorities for a temporary stay.
Thouk said his ministry had not yet received an official number of dead fish and would examine their complaints.