Sunday, August 14, 2016

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, waiting for the fish

Fishing in Cambodia on the Ton Le Sap River

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, waiting for the fish

The 15 minute horn sounds, spreading word among the locals that the Cruiseco river boat is about to depart. It is still early morning and I am outside on our cabin balcony, perched on a plastic chair. The tropical heat is already building, coating my skin with sweat.

Overnight, the river level has dropped so that we are now wedged against the concrete wall of the Phnom Penh wharf. At eye level, I face onto an enormous rubber tyre, which has been hung there to protect the boat's hull. Several metres above me a lone fisherman, wearing shorts and a black I love Cambodia T-shirt waits, with net in hand, ready to cast. He looks down, sees me and smiles.

'You like Cambodia?' he says.
'Yes, it's beautiful,' I reply. 'Are you going to fish here?'
'Yes, just wait for boat go.'
'Do you catch many fish here?' I ask him.
'Sometime yes, sometime no.'
'Well, good luck today.'
'Good luck you too.'

Our boat's starts engine up and, as we move away from the wharf, we leave a vacant patch of swirling muddy-brown water. My fisherman immediately raises both arms and casts his weighted net into free water. Meanwhile, two more men arrive on the wharf, nets in hand. And then a small wooden craft appears on the shoreline, carrying three fishermen with a much larger net, which they promptly drop overboard. They start up their boat's motor with a pop and an acrid-smelling smoke cloud spreads. Manoeuvring the craft, they work their way across the water from right to left before cutting the engine and poling back, dragging the net along the bottom. Experience must have guided them that, with the boat's propeller disturbing the river mud, this would be a fruitful fishing spot.

Many years ago, fishing along the banks of the Ton Le Sap River at Phnom Penh was unimpeded by large boats. But today, six fishermen are competing for one meagre space of river territory where the tourist boats moor overnight. I hope my fisherman caught something today in that window of opportunity, before the next boat moves in and claims his part of the Ton Le Sap.

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