Storm Causes Unprecedented Death of 20 Tons of Fish, including Two Engendered Fish

Boeung Tonle Chhmar, Cambodia: About 20 tonnes of fish including two Mekong Giant Barbs Fish (Catlocarpio Siamensis), listed in the IUCN Red List as Endangered, died in a heavy storm in Boeung Tonle Chhmar on 11 April 2013. Following soon after the incident, IUCN Cambodia made this catastrophic event a focal point during a Mekong Water Dialogues meeting to discuss intervention in the storm-struck region and to define priority actions for sustainable natural resource management in the future.

One of two Mekong Giant Barbs died in storm Photo: Pen Thearat

The storm hit Boeung Tonle Chhmar at 10:15 pm for about twenty minutes, with its direction from the east to the west. Previously, this area has also suffered from such a disaster. “Compared to the previous years, this storm was the most serious as it killed up to 20 tonnes of fish including two endangered Mekong Giant Barbs”, said Mr Pen Thearath, Deputy Director of Boeung Chhmar Ramsar Site.

It was noted that majority of the dead fish were white fish that breathe using their scales. They need high levels of oxygen to survive. Mr Heng Sovannara, Deputy Director of Fisheries Conservation Department said “In the dry season, the water is less and the temperatures are high. The strong wind gusts create a massive emission of toxic gases from the muddy decomposed leaves shed by flooded trees. This reduced the oxygen levels in the water. The gills were stuck when the fish breathed because of high turbidity. This resulted in enormous deaths of fish.”

Mr Long Sochet, Head of Coalition of Cambodia Fishers added, “Massive deaths of fish were caused by their high density in the shallower waters of the lake. From year to year, the waters become shallower and muddier. With or without storms, most of the fisheries’ conservation zones are vulnerable when the density of fish increases and the environmental conditions get worse.”

With a big group of fishers, the waters become more polluted and result in increased deaths of fishes, so fishers should collaborate with local authorities. To minimize the risk, authorities should cooperate with the Department of Meteorology in order to be well prepared and inform the community of precautionary approaches.
Dr Srey Sunleang, Director of Department of Wetlands and Coastal Zones recommended, “Community fisheries should listen to local authorities before they gather fish from the water. In so doing, there are two benefits. One is to make sure that the storm is completely over so that they are safe. Secondly, the waters are vulnerable after storms.”

According to Mr Kong Kimsreng, Senior Programme Officer of IUCN Cambodia, a key solution to the challenges of fishery conservation is to identify deep pools for proper habitats in the lake, and dredge mud in appropriate zones thereby creating artificial habitats for fish to escape to when there is any catastrophic environmental event. Another recommendation is to set up a community fishing zone inside the conservation zone so that fish can be harvested in a sustainable way.

IUCN Cambodia made the storm and resultant death of fish a focal point for discussion during the sixth meeting of the National Working Group for the Mekong Water Dialogues. A field visit was arranged for National Working Group members and representatives of Fisheries Administration in Boeung Tonle Chhmar on 3 May 2013 to discuss and find the solutions to address this critical issue, as well as to define priority actions for sustainable natural resource management in the future and intervention in the storm-struck region.

For more information, please contact:
Mr. KONG Kimsreng, Senior Program Officer, IUCN Cambodia
Mr. SORN Pheakdey, Water and Wetlands Coordinator, IUCN Cambodia
Ms: SAY Chenda, Communication Officer, IUCN Cambodia


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