The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has reiterated its demands that fishermen stop all fishing activity including the use of nets, hooks and illegal fishing equipment in the dolphin conservation zone in Stung Treng province to ensure the sustainability of the endangered species and other fish after another dolphin was found dead there on March 19.

The Fisheries Administration (FiA) said in a March 19 press release that the dolphin, marked No 056, was around 20 years old and measured 2.39m.

An assessment by officials from the FiA and World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) Cambodia indicated that the dolphin, weighing around 160kg, had died after becoming entangled in a fishing net. It is the first dolphin casualty of 2023.

According to the FiA, around 90 dolphins currently live in the Mekong River in Kratie and Stung Treng provinces. Adult dolphins begin to reproduce at the age of 7 and typically have offspring every two years.

At present, the dolphins are under severe threat from fishing equipment such as nets, hooks and electrocution devices, which led to the government issuing a sub-decree on February 27 designating 120km of the river as a dolphin conservation zone.

The zone stretches from the Cambodia-China Friendship Bridge in Stung Treng to Kbal Koh Trong in Kratie, and the sub-decree places a ban on all fishing there.

The press release said the agriculture ministry, in collaboration with the provincial administrations of Kratie and Stung Treng and other relevant partner organisations, are continuing to strengthen the protection in the conservation area.

The ministry is also educating people about the endangered Mekong River dolphins both locally and internationally to ensure the sustainability of the dolphins and of natural fisheries resources.

But the ministry said some fishermen are still putting up nets in secret and thereby endangering the dolphins.

“We are recruiting more river guards and gathering more forces to patrol the dolphin management zone on a regular basis to prevent fishermen from using fishing nets and hooks as well as other illegal fishing equipment. We will also increase community education and continue to encourage fishermen to find other jobs,” said the press release.

WWF country director Seng Teak expressed deep regret at the loss of the dolphin, noting that it was at reproductive age.

He said the organisation would continue to help support serious law enforcement work by training and planning conservation and patrols and participate in spreading knowledge of the sub-decree and planting poles to mark dolphin protection and conservation zones.

“The relevant authorities need to carry out strict inspections to stop fishing in the zone and especially monitor the fish market and depots near the zones to ensure that no mother fish or endangered fish are being traded from the zones,” he said.