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‘No water, no fish and no farming’, villagers complain

Moeun Chhean Nariddh / Khmer Times Thu,  November 12, 2020

Fish seller in Kampong Cham province. Moeun Chhean Nariddh

KAMPONG CHAM – For more than 15 years, 48-year-old farmer Nhel Chamroeun would wake up early and go fishing in a lake near his village in Kampong Cham province’s Kang Meas district. Later in the day, he would return with a catch of between eight and 10 kilogrammes of fish to sell.

However, his daily routine has now become a thing of the past. During the last two years, Chamroeun still wakes up at dawn, but he does not go to the lake to fish anymore. Instead, he goes to his rice field to farm, because he can no longer depend on the fish in the lake as they have become more and more scarce.

“In the past, there were a lot of fish,” Chamroeun recalls. “The number of fish started to decline from year to year. When I stopped fishing two years ago, I could catch only two kilogrammes of fish per day.”

The father of three blames illegal fishing and the destruction of flooded forests, which used to be breeding grounds for fish in his commune.

However, local fishermen and fishing activists point their fingers at hydroelectric dams and climate change as the main culprits for fish decline.

They say the building of dams along the Mekong River has caused water and fish shortages in countries downstream like Cambodia. They say some species of fish in the Mekong River have disappeared completely.

“Some sorts of fish need to go up the river to their breeding ground upstream,” says Bon Yon, a fishery community activist in Kang Meas district. But, fish have no legs and they can’t climb the dams.”

Yon says there are six lakes in his district that depend on small conservation lakes which release fry when Mekong River water has filled the larger lakes where the fry can grow up. However, he says this year the river water came late in August so the lakes were not full and they started to recede again two months later.

Eang Nam, chief of the Fishing Community in Kang Meas district, partly blames climate change and a lack of rain as the cause for the shortage of water and the lack of fish in the lakes.

“There has been little rain this year, so the dams have kept most of the waer and have released only some water which is not enough to fill the lakes,” Nam says.

A man sits on a boat where Mekong River water levels are low in Kampong Cham province. Moeun Chhean Nariddh

He says between 50 and 60 percent of people in Kang Meas district make their living by both fishing and farming. However, he says many of them have stopped fishing completely due to the lack of fish.

The head of the fishing community says the fish decline has affected all fishermen along the Mekong River in Cambodia.

“However, fishermen in Tonle Sap River are the ones who have been most seriously affected, because they live on floating houses and solely depend on fishing,” Nam adds.

In Kang Meas district, fishermen like Chan Savon, 60, have now resorted to construction work and some rice farming though they still go fishing once in a while.

“If there is not enough water in the lakes, many fishermen will abandon their fishing career altogether,” Savon says. “People my age have stopped fishing because it’s hard to catch fish now.”

On the riverbank in Kang Meas district, fish vendors have also been affected by a decline in fishing.

During the early morning, Lak Cheang Ky, a 55-year-old vendor, negotiates with customers while gutting fish in a market in Prek Koy commune, some 45 kilometres northeast of Phnom Penh.

“Can you lower the price a bit more, sister?” a buyer about the same age pleads with her.

“No, I can’t,” Cheang Ky replies, “The price of fish is going up every day.”

She says some fish that she used to sell for between only $1.47 and $1.72 per kilogramme now sell for $2.50.

Cheang Ky, who has been in the fish business for more than 20 years, says many Cambodian fish vendors have brought fish from neighbouring countries to sell in Cambodia.

“You know I have brought all these fish all the way from Vietnam,” she tells her customers.

She says her husband also works as a fisherman but that he cannot catch enough fish for her to sell at the market.

Other fish vendors at the market where Cheang Ky works share the same stories about the shortage of fish in Cambodia.

“Fish are not only expensive, but sometimes we don’t have fish to sell, including fish from Vietnam,” says 40-year-old Nay Siem.

Back in Sdao commune, Kang Meas district, Chamroeun and other farmers are now in a dilemma like the fishermen.

“With no water flowing from the lake into the reservoir, farmers cannot do rice farming,” he says.

Chamroeun says the local authorities have also used pumping machines to pump water into the reservoir. However, he says the water hardly fills the bottom of the reservoir and only farmers who have rice fields nearby are supplied.

“The farmers who have rice fields far from the reservoir like myself cannot do farming this year,” he complains, “I will surely need help.”

SOURCE: Khmer Times Thu, November 12, 2020


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