TONLE SAP LAKE, CAMBODIA — Villagers on Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia, who depend on fishing for subsistence, say their livelihoods are threatened by illegal commercial fishing, which continues after a government ban. And they say authorities in charge of enforcing the ban are being bribed to look the other way.
Despite a government ban on commercial fishing across Tonle Sap Lake - the largest lake in Southeast Asia -- fishing communities say bribery of corrupt local officials has meant the illegal practice is actually increasing.
The ban was meant to decrease the rapid overfishing of the lake, a major source of food for much of the country.
Mao Penh, the head of one local fishing community, says law enforcement officials are “colluding” with illegal fishing operations.
“One side took the money and closed their eyes while the other went for the illegal fishing. The law enforcement officials are colluding with offenders; that's 50-50. This is what's happening in my village these days,” he said.
This commune, made up of five floating villages, is home to more than 2,000 families -- most of whom depend on fishing for their daily lives.
Commune chief Bun Peng admits that bribery is a problem. He says there is no legal framework to enforce the ban on fishing -- but then said he would “eradicate” the practice by the end of the year, without elaborating.
“Institutions or officials are still involved [in taking bribery] in my commune, but from now on till the end of 2012, I will absolutely eradicate them,” he stated.
Meanwhile, local officials from the Ministry of Agriculture’s fisheries administration deny such corruption takes place.
“Regarding this issue, the authority like the fishery administration are not involved or do not collude with offenders; no, there is none,” said Yuth Tan, deputy chief of fisheries at Preak Tol.
And yet, illegal fishing occurs here. A visitor can see it happening. A Vietnamese fisherman says recently that his group had paid a local official named “Ly” around $50 in exchange for a “permit” to use an illegal net hundreds of meters in length.
A nearby fisheries official named Mao Peng Ly denied being involved.
“I cannot accept it because I do not know the offenders," he explained. "And I never was involved with them.”
In the gap between what is happening and what fisheries officials say is happening are the local villagers who rely on fish to survive - and who say they want the illegal practices stopped.
Video narrated by Wayne Bowman.