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Vendors wait in the water with their crab pots next to a jetty during the Sea Festival in Kep province
Vendors wait in the water with their crab pots next to a jetty during the Sea Festival in Kep province. Vireak Mai

Sea Festival fails seafood vendors

Droves of seafood sellers descended on the normally sleepy Kep province this past weekend, attempting to capitalise on a tourism festival set up to drive dollars to Cambodia’s coastal areas.

But overcrowding and blocked roads pushed prices down and kept customers away, according to vendors.

“Many new sellers expected to earn a profit, but they failed – and they also made us fail,” said Son Sokhorn, 34, who has worked in Kep town’s well-known crab market for eight years.

She said the number of crab vendors, which stands at 30 throughout the year, climbed into the hundreds during the second annual Sea Festival, which ran December 6 -8.

The festival is part of the government’s strategy to lure tourists to Cambodia’s beaches. But while thousands turned out this year, the profits didn’t. Newcomers travelling from other provinces fared no better than the local seafood haunts.

“I hoped that during this festival I would sell all of my stock, but in fact I could only sell five per cent of my goods,” said 27-year-old Les Mariya, who came from Koh Kong province with 100 kilograms of squid and 50 kilograms of shrimp, enticed by rumours that the event would attract a million visitors.

“I am disappointed. I am feeling too down to even eat lunch today,” she said. Hoping to offload the remainder of her stock on the final day of the festival, Mariya, with many people still passing by, yelled out, “Cheap seafood for sale,” but all to no avail.

While the extra competition didn’t help, many sellers blamed the local authorities for blocking cars from the main thoroughfare by the market, which sits on a stretch of beach next to the Gulf of Thailand.

Sam Chenda, director of the provincial tourism department, claimed that the Sea Festival attracted at least 150,000 visitors, 3,000 of whom were foreigners.

Security and road blocks were in place at a music performance and at the opening ceremony on Saturday on the road leading to the market. Chenda said the purpose was to “maintain order”.

“Businesses are thinking only about profit, and they just want to get many clients,” Chenda said. “In general, the ceremony provides advantages. Even if some areas are not selling well, others benefited.”

Events at the festival included a trade fair, sport activities, swimming and boat racing.

The seafood slowdown also hit Lao Enakrith, owner of the Crab Kitchen Restaurant. While Rith earns $500 from sales over a normal weekend, he made just $200 during the festival. Prices for seafood varied around the market.

Some vendors from out of town drastically reduced costs just to pay for a ride home.

“I am worried. I have no idea how to get my money back,” said Khem Khim, 19, who said she spent 5 million riel ($1,250) on crabs.

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