Prime Minister Hun Sen took the occasion of the New Year to urge sub-national authorities in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces working on river dolphin conservation to take an active hand and assume more responsibility for maintaining the dolphin habitat.
Speaking at a groundbreaking ceremony for a bridge across the Mekong River in Kratie province on January 2, the premier said they need to play a more active role rather than expecting the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to take the lead on every issue.
“This dolphin zone is to be protected because dolphins have recently died from getting entangled in nets and I admonish you all to pay close attention to this conservation zone, without exception. The Mekong River is rich in dolphins and it also has endangered species of fish, so the habitat and its wildlife must be well-managed,” he said.
He added that the agriculture ministry is responsible for the long-term planning and preparations, but the provincial authorities who are there on-site and can react to what is occurring there daily must do everything in their power to ensure that the dolphins are not getting stuck in nets.
Hun Sen also advised the authorities to prepare permanent core zones with painted markers to make residents aware of which parts of the river have dolphins so that they will not enter the zones to fish.
“So, I remind and admonish you all to conserve dolphins in the area to ensure that we do not lose the dolphins to extinction and we can convert the area into a tourist attraction.
“If we allow fishermen to enter the area and use nets there, it will be destroyed. Only some fishermen take advantage of this on purpose, but they do damage to the place we have to conserve.
“So, the river at the border with Laos in Kratie province is to be the area we conserve the most mindfully and closely, and I hope that our residents will take part in the conservation by not entering the no-go area,” he emphasised.
Agriculture ministry spokeswoman Im Rachna said the Fisheries Administration (FiA) will cooperate closely with the provincial authorities of Kratie and Stung Treng to increase patrols of the area, particularly at night at the dolphin pool, to reduce the risks posed to the dolphins by illegal nets, fishing hooks and tackle.
She added that an FiA team would educate the residents living along the river on the importance of dolphins and the conservation work.
“The team will determine some concrete guidelines for fishermen working on the river that require them to regularly monitor the activity of laying nets or lines with baited fishing hooks so that they will notice any dolphins and save and release them when they are accidentally caught,” she said.
Rachna added that the FiA will continue to study the possibility of breeding dolphins in captivity and then releasing them into the wild in a bid to increase their populations.
“The FiA and provincial administrations and relevant authorities are committed to continuing their efforts at actively strengthening management, protection and conservation of dolphins to reduce their death rates to a minimum and increase the number of dolphins in the future,” she emphasised.
Ouk Vibol, director of the FiA’s conservation department, said urgent action is necessary as about 80 per cent of the dolphins that have been lost were killed by the nets and hooks of fishermen.
“Fishermen have been casting nets into the river since the earliest generations of their ancestors, but now there are too many of them and too few dolphins for it to continue, so we will study it and try to divide this permanent core area.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Cambodia welcomed Hun Sen’s call for action to strengthen the protections for the dolphins in the key conservation areas along the Mekong River. It said this is to ensure that the remaining dolphins and other rare species like giant fish are protected from illegal fishing activities.
“WWF applauds the prime minister’s recommendations on the establishment of the permanent core conservation zones and seasonal core conservation areas within a 180km stretch of Cambodia’s portion of the Mekong River, where all kinds of fishing activities are prohibited to protect the dolphins and mega fish,” said WWF country director Seng Teak.
He said WWF stood ready to collaborate with relevant authorities including the Dolphins Commission, FiA and provincial authorities of Kratie and Stung Treng to support the effective management of this critically endangered species and to implement the premier’s recommendations.
Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the Mekong River freshwater dolphins are one of the biodiversity-rich resources of the Mekong region, and that an inter-ministerial working group led by his ministry is preparing to apply to the UNESCO Preparatory List for Natural Heritage.
“Every year, many dolphins are found dead, some of which were caught in nets of fishermen while others could have been electrocuted to death. So, we have to conserve dolphins and other biodiversity for Cambodia to preserve global natural values for preparing the list of the conservation area for UNESCO,” he added.