Cambodia’s fish industry is growing, despite declining global prices, but low sanitary standards are preventing access to Western markets
A grouper at a Phnom Penh restaurant. International demand for Cambodian fish is rising, and local farmers are working to produce more for the export market. Sovann Philing
FISH exports are expected to rise this year on the back of an increase in domestic fish farm production, according to fisheries officials and exporters.
Nao Thuok, director of the Fisheries Administration at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said that officials expected that 50,000 tonnes of farmed fish would be harvested in 2009 from the Kingdom's 300,000 fish ponds, boosting regional exports.
"We are aiming to export more of our fisheries produce abroad to earn more income and boost the national economy," he said Tuesday.
Dwindling global fish stocks are leading importers to look to countries like Cambodia where limited technology has left resources largely untapped.
The Cambodian government is working to promote local fish exports, but lack of quality standards has prevented local farmers and fishermen from making significant inroads into Western markets.
We will encourage more aquaculture production in the country.
"We will encourage more aquacultural production in the country to increase fish production for future export," he said.
Cambodia harvested 365,000 tonnes of freshwater fish, 66,000 tonnes of marine fish, and 40,000 tonnes of farmed fish in 2008, according to ministry statistics.
A total of 25,000 tonnes of fish were exported to Australia, Vietnam, Thailand, China, Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong last year.
Fish exporters also say increases in local production - especially from farms - would contribute to an increase in exports in 2009.
"This year, we are receiving only about US$6 or $7 per kilogram, which is about half of the price we got last year," said Chhay Heang, president of the Chhay Heang Group, which exports to China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore.
He said that low production costs would allow Cambodia to sell fish at cheaper prices while still earning a profit.
"I expect to see a 20-tonne increase in the company's exports," he said.
Vuth Chanthou, managing director of Chanthou Meanchey Company, which exports between 100 and 1,000 tonnes per year to Thailand and Vietnam, said that an increase in fisheries production would prompt more exports.
"We will be able to export more fish than last year because we can buy more fish locally," he said.
According to World Bank figures, fish production accounted for 7 percent of the Kingdom's GDP in 2007, with freshwater fish going mostly to the local market and saltwater fish for export.
Cambodia earns about $100 million per year from fish exports, but low sanitary standards have held back growth in Western markets, and Cambodian fish are currently banned from the European Union and the United States.
The World Bank said that Cambodia has strong potential as an exporter of both fish and fish feed. Its most recent report said that Cambodia has the potential to raise between 500,000 and 1 million tonnes of catfish and tilapia per year, both of which are components of fish feed.