A member of Cambodia’s Supreme Council for Recommendations on Wednesday told RFA’s Khmer Service that local authorities are utilizing legal loopholes to avoid adhering to regulations that would protect the biodiversity of the Mekong River.
Kong Monika led the Council’s team in investigating the impact of the Don Sahong Dam, currently under construction near the Laos-Cambodia border. He said the purpose of the investigation was to find out if the endangered freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins are being protected according to the laws of Kratie and Stung Treng provinces.
Monika said that authorities are doing nothing to restrict illegal fishing during times when the activity is supposed to be banned. He also highlighted how illegal fishing nets are killing the dolphins and other marine animals.
“People are still fishing in the off-limits zones that were set up to protect the dolphins,” he said.
The dam project not only puts the dolphins at risk; it also hurts the livelihoods of villagers who rely on the river, the investigation found.
“In the past, there were a lot of fish in the Mekong River, but nowadays we catch only 30 percent of what we could five years ago,” a fisherman in Laos’ Khong district told RFA’s Lao Service in April.
“Before, we would make between $600 and $700 a day from fishing. Today, we can’t even catch enough fish for our own consumption,” he said.
Nearly 400 households in three villages located below Don Sahong have suffered a dramatic drop in their catch since work began on the dam in late 2015, sources say.
Monika’s investigation also found that the dam is hurting the local tourism industry. Since Don Sahong began construction, the dolphins have migrated to areas farther away from the dam, so local villagers relying on income from dolphin watchers have taken a hit.
Monika said that local authorities have also failed to address these concerns.
He said that he wrote to the Cambodian Ministry of Environment about the social and environmental impact of the dam, but received no response.
International Rivers, an Oakland-based Environmental NGO with offices on four continents, says on its website that “the dam threatens vital Mekong River fisheries and the area’s biological wealth, and undermines food security and the region’s fishery and tourism-based economy.”
The NGO warns that the dam, when completed, will block the free movement of migratory fish between Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.