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Reeling in the illegal anglers

Reeling in the illegal anglers

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Provincial authorities say this year's rise in illegal fishing is

linked to the belief that the government would be too busy to crack

down during elections

Vandy Rattana

Fishermen in Phnom Penh’s Chruoy Changvar district last week using illegal nets that are made of very fine mesh.

Government officials say they have cracked down on more than 700 cases of illegal fishing in the Kingdom between the months of June and August.

"We have burned more than 80,000 metres of illegal fishing nets countrywide and saved more than 10 million fish that we've released back into Tonle Sap Lake and the Mekong River," Nao Thuok, director of the Fisheries Administration at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, told the Post Monday.

Current figures show a rise of nearly 30 percent in illegal fishing cases over the same period last year, he added.

"We're seeing a large increase in illegal fishing compared to last year. Illegal fishermen have used July's elections as cover for their activities," he said, adding that they choose times when they believe government officials are too busy to pay attention to ramp up their illegal practices.

"We prosecuted seven men in court," he said. "We've also arrested several others but released them after warning them to stop."

He said cracking down is difficult because illegal fishermen will stop when they are caught but simply re-start operations when authorities are gone.

"We need better cooperation from local authorities and residents," he said.

The southern Tonle Sap lake is prime territory for Cambodia's illicit anglers, local officials say, adding that July's national polls made it difficult for authorities looking for votes to make any serious effort to halt illegal fishing.

We are seeing a large increase in illegal fishing compared to last year.

"We are now cracking down in the Tonle Sap area and in three provinces because of the fishing ban season," Hong Hy, director of the Tonle Sap Southern Fisheries Administration Inspectorate, told the Post Sunday.

Cambodia prohibits non-subsistence or commercial fishing from June 1 to the end of September to allow fish populations time to replenish. Some areas impose the ban until the end of October.

Most offenders of the ban are local fishermen using small-mesh nets to increase their catches for family consumption or to sell at markets.

"We would have started cracking down before the elections, but we were worried that politicians would criticise us for doing so," Hong Hy said.

Uy Sarun, also with Southern Fisheries Administration Inspectorate, said authorities have confiscated nearly 3,500 metres of fishing nets in the southern region of the lake, as well as more than 5,000 fish.

The nets were burned and the fish have been returned to the lake, Uy Sarun said.

He said authorities have been conducting the crackdown principally in Battambang and Pursat provinces since last month, but that raids in Kampong Chhnang and Kampong Speu provinces have produced good results.

"They never stop their illegal activities," Uy Sarun said.

"They just wait until we're finished and then begin again," he added.

"We're trying to do what we can for the sake of preventing the destruction of our fish resources."

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