The Fisheries Administration (FiA) has announced plans to employ drones to combat illegal fishing, following the discovery of a dead Irrawaddy dolphin in recent days. 

Following the unhappy event, the FiA also shared plans to offer incentives to members of the public who inform them about illegal fishing activities in protected areas.

The sad find came just days after the exciting news that two newborn Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) – also known as the Mekong freshwater dolphin – calves have been spotted this month.

A February 19 statement from the FiA said the deceased mammal was found in Saob commune, in Kratie province’s Prek Prasab district on February 18, around 16km from the Kampi deep pool dolphin protection area. 

The dolphin calf was 1.04m long, and weighed just 14kg.

The animal’s death may have resulted from fishing nets as scars were observed on its back, it added.

“The Fisheries Administration will cooperate with the relevant authorities to crack down on fisheries crimes and will enforce full penalties against the perpetrator according to the Law on Fisheries,” it continued. 

The administration called on local fishermen and the public to play their part in protecting the dolphins by reporting any offences they see, and refraining from the use of illegal fishing equipment such as electrical devices.

“The FiA will offer rewards to those who report cases of fisheries crimes to us,” it added.

Ouk Vibol, director of the FiA’s Fisheries Conservation Department, explained that the department and its partner NGOs are trying their best to protect the rare species, but challenges remain as the dolphin’s habitat stretches over 120km, while only 72 guards are available to patrol the area.

“If we divide the total length by the number of officials, there would be large areas which are unguarded at any one time. In addition, the dolphins are constantly moving from place to place. This means that it is impossible to prevent all fisheries crimes without the support of the public,” he said.

“The use of fishing nets with holes larger than 4cm is banned within the protected area. Nets with smaller openings are permitted, once they have been checked by FiA officials, and our team will be standing by to rescue any dolphin caught in such a net,” he explained.

“We will continue to educate people as to why it is important to protect the dolphin population, and explain how they benefit tourism, which is a major source of income for the local population,” he added.

According to Vibol, in addition to regular patrols by river guards, the FiA plans to use drones to monitor the protected area.

Seng Teak, country director of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Cambodia, appealed for wider public participation in dolphin protection, and called on local residents to work together to completely eliminate illegal fisheries crimes in the area. 

He added that this would also contribute to the protection of many other species, such as rare and endangered varieties of Mekong fish.

According to Vibol, there are currently around 90 fresh water dolphins dwelling in the northeastern provinces of Kratie and Stung Treng.