Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina has advised the Fisheries Administration (FiA) to devise a clear strategy to efficiently address the challenges involved with dolphin conservation, aside from banning all fishing in dolphin pools because of the threat it poses to the endangered animals.

Tina inspected the work of conserving Mekong River dolphins in the Anlong Kampi Irrawaddy dolphin conservation area in Sambok commune’s Kampi village of Kratie province’s Chitr Borei district on January 25.

“The Fisheries Administration needs to map out a clear strategy to deal with challenges effectively, with the specific objectives of protecting the dolphins as well as reducing fishing in favour of other practices such as low-cost yet efficient aquaculture, and especially, preventing fishing with illegal gear,” he said.

Ministry spokeswoman Im Rachna said on January 25 that while inspecting the area, the minister provided 10 spotlights, 10 binoculars and three high-speed boats and walkie-talkies to the river guard police station to patrol the area and investigate illegal fishermen and identify offenders.

“The minister hopes that the dolphins will be protected and cared for and conserved,” she said.

Rachna continued that in Cambodia, the Mekong River dolphins are present in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces, noting that as of 2022 the country has approximately 85 dolphins remaining.

In a January 25 press release, the World Wide Fund for Nature- (WWF) Cambodia said an 11th dolphin was found dead in the past year, bringing the death toll to 29 over the past three years.

The international NGO called on authorities to step up night and day patrols of dolphin conservation areas and prevent illegal fishing after a third Mekong Irrawaddy dolphin carcass was discovered in the space of one week.

Dolphins swim in the Mekong River in Kratie province, as seen in April. WWF-CAMBODIA

While presiding over a groundbreaking ceremony for a new bridge spanning the Mekong River in Kratie on January 2, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned Kratie and Stung Treng authorities to pay close attention to conserving dolphins and establish a permanent core area where the animals can thrive and ensure that there is no illegal fishing that affects the freshwater dolphins and some other endangered fish.

“We have to designate a permanent core area which must have painted marks. If there is a permanent core area in the river, it will make residents aware that we’ve put barriers in place to prevent them from entering to fish,” he said.

WWF country director Seng Teak said on January 25 that after Hun Sen recommended the establishing of the area, there have been some positive signs of changes. The agriculture ministry, he said, convened a meeting to review the proposed permanent core area and seasonal core areas in a bid to conserve the dolphins.

“I see that relevant institutions, especially the agriculture ministry, are working on strategies and mobilising resources to get fishermen to change,” he said.

He observed that the FiA conducted patrols actively both day and night in areas where the dolphins live and some fishing offences have been reduced as a result.

“Day and night patrols to strengthen the implementation of the law in dolphin areas since the prime minister’s recommendation seem to be helping because there have been no sign of dolphin deaths so far,” he said.

He added that if the implementation of the law was as strict going forward as it has been in recent weeks, he is optimistic that there will be more positive outcomes for dolphin life and reproduction in the future as they will increase in numbers again if they have safe and undisturbed habitats.