People who illegally fish in the waterfowl conservation area of Prek Toal Ramsar site in Battambang province’s Ek Phnom district have been warned of legal consequences if they are caught.

District governor Mil Sopha told The Post that three days ago, authorities cracked down on many illegal fishing cases and destroyed large quantities of fishing equipment hidden in the water of the conservation area.

Fishing in the area not only depletes fish numbers but also affects biodiversity and decreases the number of birds in Southeast Asia’s last large waterfowl conservation area, he said.

“If there are no fish, there are no waterfowl. And if there are no waterfowl, there are no tourists, which mean the locals will lose income. So, we must cooperate to protect and preserve this conservation area by preventing and suppressing all crimes, especially illegal fishing and clearing of flooded forest land,” he said.

Sopha noted that during recent crackdowns, authorities also found illegal fishing equipment in 16 other locations. But because they were outsides of the conservation area, the fishermen were given three days to remove them, or face legal action.

He said that on November 10, environment officials in the Prek Toal Ramsar site reported that flocks of waterfowl had migrated from other areas. However, whether the number of waterfowl is declining or increasing is not known yet as migration has just begun.

Provincial Fisheries Administration director Chuong Sophea told The Post that to increase the amount of freshwater fish, clampdowns on fisheries crimes, deforestation and destruction of flooded forests must be strengthened and enforced regularly.

“In order to effectively suppress fisheries crimes, it is necessary to do it transparently and without exception, especially any officials implicated in a crime,” he said. “We have reminded officials and warned them that their cases will be filed to court if they are found to be involved in a crime.”

He called on people, especially the families of fishermen, to cooperate and provide information on illegal fishing activity and encroachment on or destruction of flooded forests in spawning areas.

Sophea said the district Fisheries Administration has purchased 60 poles and has already set up a boundary from Moung Russey district’s Russey Kraing commune to Ek Phnom district’s Prey Chas commune. The work would continue next year to connect to Thma Koul district.

Provincial environment department director Kort Boran told The Post that fishermen used to illegally fish in the conservation area, but that the activity has largely ceased.

“Our rangers in the Prek Toal Ramsar site patrol almost every day, and have seen no new cases of illegal fishing, but family fishing near their place still occurs occasionally. But they do not enter the bird sanctuary,” he said.