Cambodia's river guards have reported confiscating more than 35,000 metres of gill nets, 21 boats and an assortment of homemade grenades during patrols in Mekong Irrawaddy Dolphin Sanctuary in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces between May and July.
However, just three offenders accused of illegal fishing were sent to court during that period.
The haul, which also included more than 1,100 metres of illegal hooked lines and over 650 fishing hooks, appears to represent a considerable increase on 2014, when a total 62,100 metres of fishing nets were confiscated during the entire year.
According to WWF-Cambodia communications manager Un Chakrey, the equipment is having a devastating effect on fish populations and endangered species inhabiting Cambodia’s rivers. All of the equipment is burned after being seized.
“The grenades are made from TNT and can each kill up to 200 kilograms of fish,” he said.
“Tiny fish are killed, too, and it also affects the Irrawaddy dolphins.”
Five endangered Irrawaddy dolphins have been found dead in Cambodia’s waterways so far this year.
Previous estimates have placed the population at as few as 85 dolphins.
Deputy director of the Stung Treng provincial fishery administration Dieb Bora said TNT is commonly smuggled in from Laos, with two loads of the explosive intercepted in Thala Barivat district so far this year.
According to Mork Ponlork, deputy director of the provincial Fishery Administration and head of Mekong Irrawaddy Dolphin rangers in Kratie, while his team of 42 rangers is well-equipped, they are hampered by their boats’ inferior horsepower.
“The engines are smaller and weaker than those of the suspects; the suspects use 18-horsepower engines, but we are using 13-horsepower engines,” he said.
According to Ponlork, his team has managed to overcome that challenge by receiving legal clearance to use some of the confiscated boats on a temporary basis.
But Ponlork said officials face an uphill challenge during the rainy season, with vast expanses of woodlands flooded, and illegal fishermen seemingly alerted ahead of busts – resulting in a low arrest rate.
The problem of illegal fishing also continues to be felt elsewhere in Cambodia.
During a bust in the Boeung Thom Prek Thlan Fish Sanctuary located in Boribor district in Kampong Chhnang yesterday, officials confiscated and destroyed more than 2,000 metres of illegal nets.