Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Dith Tina expressed his admiration for this year’s fishing season haul, which has seen fishermen catching up to three tonnes of fish in less than an hour, something he credits to the government’s efforts at preventing illegal fishing and ending wetlands encroachment that was destroying the spawning grounds for the fish.

Tina was inspecting batches of fish caught by “dai” – or stationary bag nets – which are now being processed into prahok, by people in Tapov village of Koh Chen commune and Sangvar village in Kampong Luong commune of Ponhea Leu district in Kandal province on the morning of December 31.

“I believe our wild fish will be born in greater numbers and grow larger if we continue to maintain forest habitat for fish in flooded forests and wet lands and allocate adequate fishing seasons to give fish time to grow and reproduce. Balancing conservation and fisheries production is the key to sustainability,” he said.

On the evening of December 31, Tina took to Facebook urging all fishermen to continue to abide by the fisheries laws in order to preserve this natural resource for generations to come and to help law enforcement officials to properly enforce the law by reporting fisheries crimes so that the perpetrators will face severe punishment.

He explained that fisheries officials can employ a law enforcement strategy wherein they do not need to catch the perpetrators directly in the act of fishing illegally, rather they only need to gather enough evidence that the activities were ongoing in order to charge them for it. As long as there is evidence to identify them, the arrests can be made at any time.

Heng Sophearith, director of the Fisheries Administration’s (FiA) Kandal cantonment, said on January 1 that while inspecting the prahok fishing and processing activity now taking place in Ponhea Leu district of Kandal province, Tina instructed and encouraged fisheries officers and police to work together to crack down on fishing offences during the closed season as well as the open season.

He added that, at the same time, the minister also encouraged people on the border of Kandal province to buy fish to make prahok and “pha’ak” – another fermented-fish product, containing sticky rice – in accordance with the habits of the Cambodian people since ancient times.

Tina also recommended that the people who make prahok and pha’ak from dai fish compete with each other, saying that he will give out prizes at the end of the season.

Sophearith also stated that the bountiful fish catch this year was also due to the strict order issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen to crack down on fisheries crimes in the Tonle Sap Lake area of Cambodia.

He added that the number of fish is also impacted by natural factors and this year the weather was favourable, with rain from the beginning of the year and the water levels of the Mekong River high enough.

“This year, the fishermen are happy. All we see are happy faces . . . Samdech [Hun Sen] cares about feeding the people and encouraging the fisheries,” he said.

The director of the cantonment claimed that fisheries officials have been cracking down on illegal fishing on a regular basis, regardless of whether the season is closed or open.

He said that when receiving information that there is a crime related to fishing with illegal fishing equipment, the specialised force will crack down on them and confiscate and destroy their equipment and punish them according to the law right away.

“As long as the perpetrators use illegal fishing equipment, we will confiscate it and punish them according to the fisheries law and make them know that these activities will be bad for them in the future because they destroy spawning habitat. So, if they violate the fisheries law, it is like they have climbed a tree and are sitting on its branch as they saw through it,” he said.

Sophearith said, however, that law enforcement also has some blind spots and areas of poor enforcement at some fishing sites due to the large area the fishing grounds cover, but he pledged that they would keep working to protect all of the fisheries no matter what.

Lim Thida, a resident of Takeo province who makes prahok to sell each year, said that every season she and her fellow villagers buy their fish at Kilometre 9 area in the capital’s Russey Keo district. She said she expects to be able to make one tonne of prahok this year due to the abundant supply of fish.

“The first day I bought a kilogramme for 3,000 riel and a few days later the price dropped slightly to 2,800 riel. This year’s fishing catch is richer and better than last year’s,” she said.

Long Sokny, 58, said she was happy to see that this year’s fishing catch was big because it made the price more reasonable.

“Every year, I make about 400 to 500kg of prahok to sell and to eat and share with my siblings and when the dai fish are back in big numbers like this year, they call out to us to come and follow tradition,” she said, adding that this year the prahok fish cost between 2,500 to 3,000 riel, though the price tends to vary some from day to day.