The Cambodian Fisheries Administration (FiA) destroyed nearly 60,000 metres of confiscated gillnets in two gillnet burning ceremonies held on 6 and 7 February 2014. This was a clear demonstration of the Cambodian Government's resolve to protect the Irrawaddy Dolphin. It is also particularly great news as SOS is currently supporting a WWF Cambodia project to prevent the bycatch of Irrawaddy Dolphins in the Mekong river.
Gillnet burning ceremonies were held at river guard posts in Kampi, Kratie province and Koh Sampeay, Stung Treng province and were attended by His Excellency Dr. Nao Thouk, Director of the FiA, WWF representatives, local government representatives, commune chiefs, police and the river guards who strive to enforce Fishery Law by confiscating gillnets from the dolphin protection zones and explaining to fishermen why gillnets are banned from use in those areas.
Gillnets used by local people for fishing are a major threat to the critically endangered population of Irrawaddy dolphins that inhabit a 190km stretch of Cambodia's Mekong River between Kratie and the border with Lao PDR, which number between 78 to 91 adults based on the latest scientific surveys. Many dolphin deaths are due to gillnet entanglement, which prevents them from coming to the surface for air. Freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins are known to breathe at intervals of 70 to 150 seconds and have only been observed to stay under water for a maximum of 12 to 15 minutes.
Hence, gillnets have been banned from use in this particular 190 km stretch since being recognised as a dolphin protection zone through a sub-decree issued by the Royal Government of Cambodia in August 2012. The sub-decree has led to government measures which include outright bans on gillnets, fish cages and human settlements in floating houses within this safe zone. While fishing is permitted in the area, the ban on techniques that are particularly damaging to Irrawaddy dolphins, such as the use of gillnets and electrical currents, is a crucial step that is meant to help the critically endangered population bounce back.
"WWF commends the Cambodian government in taking action against illegal fishing practices to protect Cambodia's freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins, and will continue to support government actions to protect the significant natural resources and biodiversity of the Mekong River," said Mr Chhith Sam Ath, Country Director of WWF-Cambodia.
WWF has been supporting effective law enforcement by providing training and necessary equipment to river guards and enforcement units for some time. The enforcement units, who often have to endure harsh and sometimes dangerous challenges in their work, require a variety of skills such as knowledge of first aid, patrol and arrest techniques, recording data for enforcement management tools like SMART, and using GPSs for tracking locations and navigation.
Their work also needs to be supported by important tools that can be as basic as life jackets and enforcement uniforms to sophisticated equipment such as water-proof cameras GPS units, radio communication tools and solar panels for powering outposts. These tools have been provided to the enforcement units through a series of training programmes and equipment donations that were financed by SOS, which has since helped to boost enforcement efforts.
To continue conservation of the Mekong dolphins while maintaining the livelihoods of local communities, the project team also works with key partners to increase awareness of the importance of the Mekong dolphins and implement alternative livelihood programmes such as aquaculture, livestock raising, vegetable growing and community-based ecotourism.