PHNOM PENH — Three Cambodia ministries on Wednesday jointly proposed regulating fishing in part of the Mekong River to protect the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin.
The head of the semi-official Commission for Mekong Dolphin Conservation said the tourism, agriculture and transportation ministries will submit a decree to Cambodia's Cabinet limiting fishing activity along a 180-km stretch of the river.
Touch Sieng Tana said the rule would not prohibit all fishing, but would ban the use of floating houses, fish cages and gill nets, the large, almost invisible nets that entangle all sorts of aquatic life.
Touch Sieng Tana said he expects the Cabinet to adopt the rules in the next few weeks.
His commission believes there are up to 180 dolphins living in Cambodia's portion of the Mekong River, but the conservation group WWF-Cambodia estimates there are only 85. While the International Union for Conservation of Nature considers the worldwide population of the dolphin—estimated at more than 7,000, concentrated in Bangladesh—to be “vulnerable,” the subgroup in Cambodia is considered critically endangered.
“Banning or significantly restricting the use of gill nets in the dolphin habitat is essential if dolphins are to survive in the Mekong River,” Gordon Congdon, freshwater conservation manager of WWF-Cambodia, said in an emailed statement. “Gill nets are a major threat to dolphins in many parts of the world and similar efforts to protect dolphins by reducing gill net use are under way around the world.”
To try to reduce the threat from fishing, Cambodia in 2007 launched a US $700,000 plan in cooperation with the World Tourism Organization to increase awareness among villagers and persuade some to abandon fishing for tourism jobs.
WWF-Cambodia has also charged that pollution from pesticides and industrial waste has been killing off the dolphin population.
By: SOPHENG CHEANG / AP WRITER Thursday, March 1, 2012