Residents of Kratie province had an education in conservation yesterday as the government and outside partners reiterated a September sub-decree banning gill nets on a sizeable stretch of the Mekong in a bid to protect the badly endangered Mekong River dolphin.
Touch Seang Tana, head of the Commission for Mekong Dolphin Conservation and Ecotourism Development, told workshop attendees that prohibiting gill nets could cause fishermen’s catches to shrink, but maintained that it would give them an opportunity to ultimately boost their incomes by offering dolphin-watching excursions and souvenirs.
“The government acknowledges that the Mekong dolphin is of value to our national heritage, and it is also a key income source for community residents through the tourism field,” he said, urging residents not to use gill nets in order to preserve the dolphin as a prospective source of income.
According to Department of Fisheries director Nao Thouk, Cambodia once had thousands of dolphins along the Mekong River and in Tonle Sap Lake. However, some 2,000 were killed during the Khmer Rouge regime and used for cooking oil. Later, the dolphins were sometimes used by the military for target practice, he said.
Michelle Owen, acting president of the World Wildlife Fund in Cambodia – which cooperates with the Mekong dolphin commission and the fisheries department – said that less than 100 Mekong dolphins survive today, and that most of the recent death toll is caused by entanglement in gill nets.
“It is a special chance for all the relevant parties to cooperatively save the Mekong dolphin, and this contributes to the symbol of ‘The smile of the Mekong River’,” she said.
According to the WWF, seven Mekong dolphins died in the first 10 months of 2012, compared to only five in the entirety of 2011.
The government sub-decree, which went into effect on September 25, bans “the usage of all kinds of gill nets in the core zone” – which extends 180 kilometres into Kratie from the Lao border – “during both the dry and the rainy season”.
To contact the reporter on this story: Chhay Channyda at [email protected]