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Rosy official forecasts fail to lift freshwater fishermen’s hopes

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Fish caught in the Tonle Sap River are weighed in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district during the 2020 fishing season. Heng Chivoan

Rosy official forecasts fail to lift freshwater fishermen’s hopes

While river fishermen are claiming to have had smaller catches this season, experts are predicting that this year’s freshwater fish yields will be double that of previous years.

Heng Kong, director of the Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute at the Fisheries Administration (FiA), predicted that with the increased flow of the Tonle Sap River and the Mekong River, freshwater fish catches this year would be higher.

This would be aided by the activities of the joint national, provincial and local authorities in effectively cracking down on fisheries crimes, he told The Post.

“Although fishing at the beginning of this season was low, depending on the weather and water flows, I believe that our freshwater fish yields this year will be double that of previous years, while the fish may be larger than last year.

“This will be supported by the increased enforcement of the law protecting freshwater fisheries by the authorities,” Kong said.

Fishermen along the tributaries of Tonle Sap would likely catch more during November, he added, while those on the lake itself, especially along the main fishing course, could see increased catches in mid-November or early December barring heavy rains or low temperatures.

Long Sochhet, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Fishers (CCF), said he also expected fish yields to be better this year.

“Given the abundance of water and the efforts of the authorities to enforce the fisheries law, I believe the amount of fish this year will increase.

“So I urge all relevant authorities to not let up in their efforts or absolve the perpetrators of fisheries crimes,” he told The Post.

According to a FiA report, Cambodian freshwater capture fisheries reached 383,050 tonnes in 2021.

Thach Phanara, head of the FiA’s Laboratory Division at the Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute, said the lake and rivers would be richer in smaller fish this year.

Citing a survey of fry flows along the Mekong from July to September, he said smaller species of fish – such as common dace, Thynnichthys thynnoides, goldfin tinfoil barb, Smith’s barb and engraved catfish – would be abundant this year.

However, larger fish such as “pra” and “po” type shark catfishes, smallscale mud carp and Osteochilus melanopleura would be less plentiful, he noted.

“Based on the weather and the water flow patterns in the Tonle Sap Lake and the movement of smaller fish from the Mekong River, we expect the natural stocks of fish this year to be higher than last year.

“This is also due to the crackdown on fisheries crimes – especially the confiscation of illegal fishing equipment in 70,000ha of flooded forest,” he said.

Despite the predictions of higher yields from experts, some freshwater fishermen are complaining of small catches, with a maximum of 5kg caught a day.

Dul Buntha, a fisherman in Kampong Chhnang province’s Cholkiri district, told The Post that his experience differed from that of official forecasts.

“Fisheries officials never predict a decline in fish yields under any circumstances, but for the fishermen, most are almost going hungry because we cannot catch enough fish.

“We try very hard to catch fish, catching only 3-5kg a day, and we are now almost out of rice,” he said.

According to Buntha, while fisheries crimes in the Tonle Sap lake area were down due to the crackdown by the authorities, they reoccurred significantly during rainy season.

Hor Sam Ath, deputy head of Sdei Kraom Rohal Suong Fishing community in Ek Phnom district’s Prek Luong commune in Battambang province, told The Post that fishing had not been productive at the beginning of this season.

“With there being large amounts of water everywhere, a lot of fish moved into the flooded fields, while large rivers and lakes are so deep it is impossible to fish.

“I tried to catch fish along the river, but I didn’t catch many, so it is better at the moment if I fish in the fields,” he said.

According to Sam Ath, fish that could be caught in fields at the beginning of this season in numbers were mostly lake fish, including climbing perch, moonlight gourami and snakehead murrel.

The fish moving from rivers, he added, were goldfin tinfoil barb, Smith’s barb and Asian redtail catfish, which, while abundant, were small.

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