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For more than half a century, January meant prime fishing season for Pang Bin. He took his wooden boat out into Cambodia's largest lake, his catches and their sales sustaining his family for much of the year.
This month, the 75-year-old decided to call it quits, but not because of age or any health concerns.
Fish - Year - This
"No fish," he shrugged. "Just very, very poor. I've never seen a year like this."
Across the Tonle Sap, a vast shallow lake in the heart of this Southeast Asian nation, fishermen are experiencing the least productive season in memory. Years of dam-building and droughts intensified by climate change have upset one of the world's richest freshwater fisheries, carrying potentially severe consequences for millions who rely on the lake for survival.
Fishermen - % - % - Haul - Catches
Fishermen say they are capturing only 10% to 20% of their usual haul, and that the catches are smaller than in past years. Upstream, the waterways that feed the lake recently turned from their familiar caramel hue—rich with nutrients that sustain hundreds of species—to an unsettlingly clear aquamarine due to what experts called "extremely low flows."
Normally, at the start of the year, the banks of the lake are piled high with thousands of tons of silvery, finger-length mud carp, which are mixed with salt to make prahok, a pungent, fermented paste that is an important source of protein in the Cambodian diet. By some estimates, three-quarters of the protein that Cambodia's 16 million people eat comes from the lake.
Catches - Weeks - Price - Prahok - Markets
But the catches were drying up by mid-January, weeks earlier than usual. The price of prahok in nearby markets has doubled to about $3 per pound. That is a substantial increase in a country where the average household has about $200 a month to spend on food, according to official statistics, leaving some families to fret about how they will...
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