Dwindling stocks hit fishermen’s income


Poor haul: A disappointed Siem Huat (front) looking at the meagre catch on his boat near Kampong Phluk at Tonle Sap Lake in Siem Reap, Cambodia. — Reuters

Fisherman Siem Huat has seen fish stocks dwindle in recent years at the Tonle Sap Lake, and with them, his family’s sole source of income.

Experts say extreme weather brought by climate change, ecological disruption from dam-building, wetland conversions, and overfishing threaten food supplies and livelihoods for the millions who depend on South-East Asia’s largest lake.

“Sometimes there is rainfall in the wrong months or it gets so hot I can’t go out to fish,” said Siem Huat, 45, as he navigated his boat through mangroves to pull in nets carrying disappointingly few fish.

The Mekong River typically swells in the rainy season as it converges with Cambodia’s Tonle Sap River, sending an unusual reversed flow into the Tonle Sap Lake that fills up the latter and spawns bountiful fish stocks.

But in recent years, the reversal has been delayed or disrupted, so that those who rely on the lake to earn a living find themselves in a battle to survive.

“There are days when I struggle to earn enough to afford rice or cover the cost of gasoline to return home,” said Sar Mom, a 43-year-old fish vendor, whose typical daily income has plunged in a year to just US$5 (RM23.30) from US$25 (RM116.50).

Cambodian authorities are now scrambling to educate fishing communities on responsible farming practices, cutting water pollution and how to switch to fish farming or aquaculture. — Reuters

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