March 1, 2012
PHNOM PENH (Kyodo) -- Cambodia has decided in principle to regulate fishing in a large stretch of the Mekong River in order to conserve endangered dolphins, a government official said Wednesday.
Touch Seang Tana, chairman of Cambodia's Commission for Conservation and Development of the Mekong River Dolphin Ecotourism Zone, told reporters a new sub-decree on protection of the dolphins has just been finalized and is expected to soon be approved by the Cabinet meeting.
He said the sub-decree covers a 180-kilometer stretch of the Mekong River -- from the border with Laos through Cambodia's two northeastern provinces of Stung Treng and Kratie -- considered to be a key dolphin habitat in need of protection.
He said villagers in the protected area will still be allowed to conduct fishing activities but only with cast nets, not gillnets and fish cages that can trap and drown dolphins. Floating houses will not be allowed in the zone since gillnets can be hidden underneath them.
"We are convinced that the measures will save dolphins from being trapped and drowned in gill nets or fish cages," he said.
The Mekong River subpopulation of the species, which is known as the Irrawaddy Dolphin, has been listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature since 2004. It has been declining since the mid-1970s.
Touch Seang Tana estimated there are more than 100 adult Irrawaddy dolphins left in the Mekong, while international wildlife conservation group WWF recently estimated the number is more like 85.
In January, the commission, the Cambodian government and the WWF signed a document in which they vowed to work together and with a sense of urgency to conserve this endangered species.