Cambodian nongovernmental organizations and officials in Sihanoukville province have applauded a warning issued earlier this week by Interior Minister to local authorities to not accept bribes from Thai and Vietnamese fishermen to fish in the Southeast Asian nation’s waters.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Monday accused provincial leaders of ignoring illegal fishing off the coast of southwestern Cambodia and warned authorities along with navy and coast guard officials not to grant permission to “illegal immigrants “ who want to fish in Cambodian waters in exchange for cash payments.
“I want all law enforcement officers here to take serious measures against crimes that are committed in Cambodia’s seas,” he said during a speech he was giving at a transfer-of-power ceremony for outgoing governor Chhit Sokhon and his replacement Yun Min.
Cheap Sotheary, a provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said villagers in the province have expressed concerns about illegal fishing and fear that blood clams soon might become extinct because of it. Blood clams are a type of ark clam common in the Asia-Pacific region and are so named because they have red hemoglobin liquid inside them.
Cambodians eat the clams after dipping them briefly into boiling water. They are considered a delicacy by the Chinese, although western countries are prohibited from importing them from Southeast Asia because they can transmit hepatitis and other diseases.
“We have a law against illegal fishing, but the provincial fishery department has not taken any action against it,” she said, adding that officials can easily identify illegal fishermen because some of them live in local communities.
Villagers and fishermen say illegal fishing is on the increase, especially among Vietnamese fishermen who illegally harvest blood clams in Cambodian waters at night.
Furthermore, the villagers, who use traditional fishing methods, cannot make enough money because the fishermen use banned equipment that yields larger catches, Cheap Sotheary said.
Yun Chheng, head of Ou Chrov village in Prey Nop district, said law enforcement officers have failed to take tough measures against the illegal fishing even though he has informed provincial officials about it.
“I am very concerned that blood clams might soon become extinct,” he said.
Neat Chamroeum, director of the Fishery Department in Sihanoukville province, told RFA’s Khmer Service that in the past his department had lacked the means to crack down on illegal fishing, especially crimes committed in deep waters.
‘Don’t give permission’
Sar Kheng also said the illegal fishing has led to an increase in the number of illegal immigrants in Cambodia.
“Don’t give permission for [immigrants] to catch our fish,” he said. “I know the cases – [officials] give permission to illegal immigrants to fish, and they want me to solve the problem. I will not solve it, so that means that you are committing the crime. You do not consider protecting [our] security at sea, but you protect traders.”
Sar Kheng said he would investigate any navy officials who are in charge of cracking down on illegal fishing but have colluded with the fishermen.
“I will praise those officials who perform their duties well, but see to it that those who collude [with illegal fishermen] to commit crimes will be held responsible before the law,” he said.
Officials in the Tonle Sap Lake area in central Cambodia also have been known to accept bribes in return for allowing illegal fishing in part of the lake where commercial fishing is banned.
The government withdrew all licenses for large-scale fishing lots in the Tonle Sap in February 2012 after concerns arose that the lake was being overfished, according to The Cambodia Daily.
According to a 2006 law, those who fish illegally in Cambodia may be subject to one to three years in prison and a fine between of 5 million-50 million riel (U.S. $1,224-$12,240).
Reported by Den Ayuthea for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.