2023 saw a commendable drop in fishing offences, marking a year of triumph for the inter-ministerial commission’s rigorous campaign against illicit activities in the Tonle Sap Lake.

Khim Finan, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, confirmed on January 3 that the group’s tireless efforts throughout 2022 were instrumental in the downturn.

According to a report by the Fisheries Administration (FiA), the commission seized a significant amount of illegal fishing equipment and referred eight cases to the courts in 2023. 

The action resulted in one individual being summoned and five being incarcerated. 

In 2022, a total of 62 cases were referred to the courts, which resulted in 19 summonses and 26 sentences.

“According to the report, the number of fishing offences declined due to the inter-ministerial commission’s intensified efforts to crack down on numerous offences in 2022. Consequently, we not only observed this decline in 2023 but also typically saw increased fish yields following the stringent enforcement of the law,” he said.

Finan assured that all relevant ministries, authorities and institutions are dedicated to continuing their work more effectively and efficiently this  year to ensure the sustainability of fisheries resources and food security for the Cambodian populace and exports.

In recent days, the FiA, in collaboration with the commission, has been visiting provinces around the lake to engage with fishing communities and understand their needs and requests.

“We received appeals to modify the length of their fishing nets and to amend our laws related to the sizes of these nets. However, our existing laws are strict … We have acknowledged their requests and referred them to the agriculture minister for review,” he stated.

He emphasised that the success of the endeavour is contingent upon the participation of all relevant parties. Therefore, the ministry is urging fisherfolk and relevant officials to apply the law responsibly for the common good.

Lim Chhoeun, head of the Phe Fishing Community in Kampong Chhnang province’s Rolea Ba’ier district, said his community has actively cooperated with the sub-national authorities to assist the commission in curbing fishing offences to bolster fish populations within their jurisdiction. 

“But our community’s efforts to suppress illegal fishing have received minimal support from local authorities. And community members are concerned about their safety when patrolling the area due to threats received,” he added.

Chhoeun said that with over 260 members, the community is acutely aware of the importance of protecting natural resources for future generations despite the challenges but requires additional support, particularly from the government. 

The fisheries sector in the Kingdom is vital to the livelihoods of its people, offering food security and contributing 8-12 per cent annually to domestic products. 

Many rural families rely on fish for their income, with fishing systems and community fish refuges contributing about 30 per cent to the gross domestic fisheries production and ensuring food security, as per the ministry.