Updated at 7:53 A.M. EST on 2015-06-15
Corrupt local officials who patrol the area around Cambodia’s Tonle Sap are encouraging illegal fishing in Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, according to a nongovernmental organization worker.
Nou Sarim, an advocacy officer with the NGO Fisheries Action Coalition Team (FACT) told RFA’s Khmer Service that witnesses and other evidence indicated that officials have been failing to enforce a 2006 law that prohibits illegal fishing in the country, nor properly informing fishermen about it.
Instead, they have continued to allow illegal fishing and benefited from it through corruption, she said.
“If the fishery officers were to implement the law, the crime would be reduced,” Nou Sarin said. “Through villagers and investigations around Tonle Sap, [we have found that] illegal fishing is on the rise.”
A villager from Kampong Chhnang, a small province in central Cambodia, who refused to be named for security reasons, told RFA that local police officers targeted villagers’ legal fishing nets and destroyed them, but left illegal nets untouched.
“There are illegal fishing nets across the river, but fishery officials don’t crack down on them,” he said. “I suspect that those officers take bribes from illegal fishermen in exchange for not destroying their illegal fishing equipment.”
But Som Phirun, chief of Kampong Chhnang’s Fishery Administration, denied that the officers had accepted bribes. He said the police had destroyed villagers’ nets that were blocking the flow of breeding fish or boat navigation.
The Tonle Sap, a combined lake and river system that swells in the rainy season, has supported fishing communities living in floating villages of moored houseboats for generations. Many villagers depend on fishing for subsistence and their livelihoods.
Som Phirun also said illegal fishing in the area had been decreasing since the start of the fishing off season on June 1.
“During this off season, small-scale fishing by families is allowed,” he said. “I’ve been working here for a long time, and I’ve seen illegal fishing is on the decline.”
According to the 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).
The government withdrew all licenses for large-scale fishing lots in the Tonle Sap in February 2012 after concerns that the lake was being overfished arose, according to an article in The Cambodia Daily.
Nonetheless, officials have been known to accept bribes in the Tonle Sap Lake area in return for allowing illegal fishing in part of the Tonle Sap where commercial fishing is banned.
In February, a Cambodian journalist was beaten to death by a group of fishermen in Kampong Chhnang province’s Cholkiri district for a series of articles he had written exposing illegal fishing.
Reported by Chin Chetha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article erroneously stated that Kampong Chhnang was a province in Vietnam.