Fishermen in Koh Kong inspect a recent fish haul,
which they say has dropped dramatically in recent years.
Adramatic drop in Cambodia's sea fishery catch is being blamed on Thai fishing boats'
increasing use of 20 kg bombs in Cambodian waters, as well as pollution and deforestation.
The bombs kill all the fish in the blast area as well as damaging reefs and sea bed
This, combined with the pollution from agricultural chemicals and waste oil and the
clearing of mangrove swamps for charcoal production has seen the annual fish catch
drop from 16,000 tonnes in 1996 to a little over 10,000 last year in Koh Kong province
alone, according to officials there.
It is not unknown for Khmer fishermen to use hand grenades or other small explosives
to stun fish in the water.
However, the greater size and number of the Thai bombs have had a far more devastating
One Kampot fisherman said that the Thais were only after big fish, but that their
large bombs were killing all the small fish as well and leaving them to rot.
He said he feared that the fish stocks would soon disappear if nothing was done to
stop the practice.
But the Ministry of Fisheries deputy director Nao Thouk said that they have so far
been unable to do anything about the Thais because the poachers have been bribing
RCAF staff to allow them into the fishing ground.
And he said his staff were powerless against the soldiers.
"The armed forces have the guns and we don't have the guns," he said.
He said that he has contacted the RCAF command in Phnom Penh and asked them to rein
in their soldiers in the area but so far to no avail .
"RCAF has no right to allow any company or fisherman to fish in Cambodia unless
they have an agreement with the Prime Minister," he said.
RCAF deputy commander in chief Khan Savoeun said that they had received the complaints
but they could do nothing until they had established the facts.
"The commander-in-chief cannot take action until they have checked it out,"
He added that they would make public the findings of their investigation, but did
not say when.
Meanwhile Cambodians who rely on fishing for their livelihood believe the action
is coming too late.
Other fishermen made similar complaints, particularly inshore fishermen who said
that their catch was a quarter of what it was in previous years.
Sek Sophat, a student at Thailand's Asian Institute of Technology's Aqua Culture
and Aquatic Resources Management Department said that use of explosives to fish was
one of the major factors in the depletion of the fish stocks.
He added that the destruction of fish habitats such as coral reefs, by the explosions,
and breeding areas like mangrove swamps were also problems.
He said the other major factor in the decline was the dumping of waste oil and other
pollutants in the sea which killed fish, algae and plants.
Meanwhile the drop in the fish catch is starting to be reflected in the provincial
tax take from the industry. Koh Kong provincial authorities said that it has dropped
by half in the past three years.
However they believe that some of this decline is due to tax cheating by fishermen
who cannot afford to pay protection money to the military and their tax obligations.
The military appears to be the only winners in the current situation.
In addition to the bribes from the Thai fishermen and the protection money from the
local fishermen Koh Kong governor Rong Plamkesan said that the military are also
running a kidnapping ring.
And he added he knew who was behind it.
"I will not name them but I say that the criminals who are kidnapping the fishermen
for ransom had instructions and authorization from top officers."
He said the official policy was that they were not to be involved in robberies and
kidnappings but they were.
He added they were also supposed to stop illegal fishing and logging, but they didn't.
He said the only success they have had in dealing with the problem has been convincing
the RCAF regional administration to disarm some of the soldiers on duty in the worst
Since that has happened things have been much quieter, he noted.
But it is not just fish that are on the decline.
Numbers of crustaceans such as shrimps and crabs are also dropping despite their
higher tolerance to explosive fishing techniques currently in vogue.
The director of Koh Kong's environmental department Sao Sin Thon said that he believed
the use of high intensity lights to attract shrimps and crabs to a central point
is too effective a method of catching them.
He said it was cleaning out areas of adult crustaceans and damaging the younger ones.
He has a unique theory on why the technique works so well.
He said that the fishermen used a red light similar to those used in brothel areas
like Toul Kork to attract men.
"The red light is very powerful it can seduce people and fish and aquatic fauna,"
Yang Tree, 39, a traditional net-using shrimp fisherman said that the lights appeared
to be damaging all species of marine life by making them blind.
He said that this was affecting the fish and crustaceans' ability to survive.