The Cowboys of the Mekong

Khmer Times
3 September 2015

The calls almost always come at night. Three or four times a month, the mobile phone of Koh Pdao’s river guard outpost will ring. A villager has spotted illegal fishermen somewhere along a 10-kilometer stretch of brushy island shore and wants them caught. In the minutes that follow, Noun Bunna and four companions will note the caller’s general location, don uniforms, and board two long-tail boats to take them across the waters. Their task: to find and apprehend illegal fishermen.

These five men, stationed near the southern tip of the Mekong River’s longest island, are a part of the river guards, a group set up by the Dolphin Commission in 2006. In 2013 it was put under the auspices of the Fisheries Administration, with the support of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). Together with 63 more men at 16 other outposts, they are responsible for patrolling a 180-kilometer stretch of the river, beginning at Koh Trong – opposite the provincial capital – and ending at the border with Laos in Stung Treng.

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