Pollution, Overfishing Threaten Important Cambodian Lake

02 December, 2017

A rich fishery in Southeast Asia is at risk because of overfishing, pollution and hydroelectric dams.

The Tonle Sap is a freshwater lake in the middle of Cambodia. The lake shrinks and expands by thousands of kilometers, depending on the season.

The Tonle Sap is home to hundreds of kinds of fish. Fishing crews catch as much as 300,000 tons of fish in the lake every year. The fish are said to provide Cambodia with up to 60 percent of its protein needs.

But things are changing.

Luan Chanti fishes at the Tonle Sap.

"In the past, we would catch lots of fish using our nets, but now there are so many people fishing here that we are not catching much anymore. That means we are making much less fish paste than before."

Luan Chanti adds that the water level is always low now, and the water smells bad.

Too much fishing is reducing the number of fish, while fish spawning grounds are disappearing. In addition, dams are preventing the natural movement of some fish species.

Some Cambodians fear the problems could get worse.

Om Savath works for a coalition of non-governmental organizations known as the Fisheries Action Coalition Team.

"There are plans to build more dams up stream in Laos. In Cambodia, we already have a dam. We are worried the electric dams will effect the fish migration and reproduction rates. The dams have also slowed down the rate of water flowing into the lake, and affect the water quality in the Mekong River."

The Tonle Sap is dying. In 2016, several environmental groups named it the world's most threatened lake. There are fewer fish to feed Cambodians. At the same time, more people are depending on fishing to earn their living.

Government agencies say they are doing what they can. Om Savath says non-governmental organizations also are helping.

"We are continuing to work with the fishermen in the region to try to fix the problems. We have had many meetings with the parties. Just this morning, we filed out latest report with the Ministry of the Environment, and soon they will be discussing with us what we should do."

Some Cambodians fear that the lack of fish will cause a migration problem for the country in the future. They say thousands of people who earn money from the lake may move to the cities to look for work.

I'm Susan Shand.

Kevin Enochs reported this story for VOANews. Susan Shand adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

spawning - adj. of or related to production of eggs in the water

migrate - v. to move from one area to another at different times of the year; to move from one place to another for purposes of employment