The Tonle Sap, with its annual production of 200 000 tonnes of fish per annum, is the most efficient freshwater fish factory in the world.
From the 9th to the 13th centuries AD, the lake’s fertility combined with an ingenious system of irrigation gave birth to one of the greatest civilisations Mankind has known: the Khmer kingdom of Angkor. The rich floodwaters produced up to 3 harvests of rice each year and a profusion of fish.
Bas reliefs at the Bayon temple reveal that fishing methods have remained virtually unchanged over the centuries.
Hundreds of kilometres of bamboo fencing and nets artfully guide the fish into traps and wicker baskets.
Commercial fishing lots are auctioned off to powerful bosses for undisclosed fees. Fishing lot No. 2 at Prek Toal alone is worth 500 000 US dollars each year.
A major reform in 1997 reverted 56% of all commercial fishing lots to local communities but the fishermen lack the capital and fishing gear to take full advantage of this policy. Only powerful commercial fishing lot owners can afford the private militias needed to protect their catch.
Prahok, a traditional method of fermenting and drying small fish, remains the only form of fish processing in Cambodia.
There is not a single fish-processing plant in the country. Most of the commercial catch is exported in un-refrigerated trucks to Thailand or Vietnam. Inconceivably, up to 50% of the catch deteriorates en route.