The O'Talas stream blocked off to catch spawning fish running from the Mekong
THE LARGEST fish spawning ground and fish catchment area into the Mekong River is
under threat from commercial fishing companies.
O'Talas stream stretches for 40 kilometers through Preah Vihear and Stung Treng provinces;
it is an ideal fish breeding ground, having a high oxygen content in the water and
suitable habitat for the spawn.
However the fish stocks now face decimation in the area because of a decision by
the provincial authorities to grant a fishing concession.
Villagers say the commercial fishing operation involves stretching a net across the
mouth of the river where it joins the Mekong in an attempt to harvest all the fish
going up to spawn.
The Culture and Environment Preservation Association (CEPA) said that blocking the
mouth of the stream has cut villagers off from areas to gather food, fish, or non-timber
forest products such as traditional medicines.
The move has also pushed up the local price of fish because the top grade fish are
exported to Thailand or Laos while the lower grades are sent to Phnom Penh anything
that remains is thrown away according to villagers.
CEPA officer Tep Bunarith said villagers had told him the owner of the fishing concession
was leaving small fish to rot rather than give or sell it to locals to make prahok
because he was angry they had complained about his company.
Van Piseth, director of CEPA, said the provincial authorities had made an underhand
deal with the company, saying that they have nothing in writing that allows them
to fish the area commercially and exclude all others.
But the head of the fisheries office in Stung Treng, Chea Vannren, said that the
commercial allocation deal was a good idea.
He said it had been brought about because locals were over-fishing the stream and
the process had become anarchic.
He said they believed it was better to have one concession which could be easily
monitored, and if the concession-holder broke the law or tried to stop locals fishing
there they would be evicted.
He said the fishing concession owners would help the community by repairing commune
offices and providing materials to rebuild district offices.
Tou Seng Tana, a fisheries expert and social policy analyst, said that the concession
could affect up to 30 percent of the fish in the Mekong if the stream was blocked
off during the spawning seasons.
Phong Choun, president of Community Aid Abroad, (CAA) said that the answer was to
give villagers the right to manage local fisheries because they had an interest in
preserving the resource.
Fish like these face decimation with their spawning ground blocked
Meanwhile two streams in the Virachay National Park have been leased to commercial
operations by the provincial authorities.
O'Tabok and O'Kampea start in the park and continue down to the Sesan river.
They have never before been commercially fished.
The move has the backing of the provincial Agriculture and Environment departments
as well as the local fisheries office.
The only official opposition has come from Koy Sokha, director of Virachay National
He said the concession will have repercussions that go further than the waterways.
He said if the fish numbers drop villagers in the area will be forced to hunt for
food in the park, which will impact on endangered wildlife.
According to a report by Ian G Baird for the Mekong River Commission, if the park
and the fisheries offices fail to act against the concessions, fish stocks will drop
and villager fish catches along the Sesan River in Ratanakkiri and even Stung Treng
will be affected.
He said wildlife such as fishing cats, otters, kingfishers, osprey, and other species
that feed on fish inside the park will have less food to eat and overall biodiversity
may be reduced in the long term.