He once electrocuted fish, now he’s a reformed river protector


In Cambodia, awareness about environment turns fisherman into defender of the river.

Kem Soth and his wife Phun Lai used to buy fish off the boats along the Mekong River to sell in local markets near their home in Kratie province. A few years ago, he noticed something: While most of the fishers would come in with two or three kilos (five or six pounds) of fish, he saw one boat that consistently had 30 or 40 kilos. “I was wondering why they caught so many fish every day,” Soth, 37, says.

So he asked. “’Electrocution,’ the fisherman told me,” Soth says. With the secret now out, this boat captain and his crew invited Soth to join them.

It was a tempting offer. Soth and Phun Lai have five children, and making ends meet selling fish is not easy in Sambor, the district where they live near Kratie city. The family is from the Kouy indigenous group, many of whom rely on fishing for their livelihoods.

Electrocuting fish, however, is illegal. But Soth considered it, because fish catches had been dwindling and there was more and more economic pressure on his household. “They said if I want to have more fish and earn more money, I have to join them.”

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