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A man casts a net into the Mekong River from the back of a fishing boat earlier this year near Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich island. Heng Chivoan

Yields from fishing take a dive

Exports of fresh fish and fish products fell significantly during the first nine months of the year, raising concerns about businesses and families operating in the Kingdom’s fisheries sector.

Fresh and frozen fish export shipments fell 21 per cent during the first nine months of the year to 7,100 tonnes, down from 9,000 tonnes during the same period in 2014, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said in its latest data release.

Processed fish products also declined, falling to 3,700 tonnes in the first nine months of the year, compared to 5,000 tonnes during the same period in 2014.

Minh Bunly, program coordinator at the Fishery Action Coalition Team (FACT), said this year’s decrease in water level – the result of below-average rainfall and hydropower dam construction – reduced the productivity of freshwater fisheries and would have a palpable impact on the economic conditions of local fishing communities.

“It impacts the fisherman’s living situation as well as society, because their income depends on the fishery and they will not able to afford to pay taxes, which reflects in the national budget,” he said.

Another issue impacting the catch size, he said, was illegal fishing, where fishermen were using small nets and as a result catching baby fish and not letting them grow long enough to reproduce.

Long Sochek, a former fish trader in Pursat province, said Cambodia’s fishing industry is struggling as a growing number of fishermen and traders compete for a dwindling supply of fish.

“It’s hard to make a profit now because there are so many other fish traders,” he explained.

Two decades ago, traders were raking in huge profits, Sochek said, but fish are becoming scarcer in Tonle Sap lake, the country’s biggest source of freshwater fish, and poaching has become rampant.

Business has gotten so bad that last year Sochek finally decided to call it quits and look for work in an unrelated industry.

Chhoeb Morn, a 58-year-old fish-products trader in Kompong Loung, a community of floating villages on Tonle Sap lake, complained of a sharp decline in supply this year.

She said in previous years that she traded 100 to 200 tonnes of prahok (fermented fish) during the October-November peak season, while so far this month she has only been able to purchase half that amount from local producers.

“This year I’ve only been able to purchase 50 per cent of what I bought last year,” she said, “I am really concerned, as I can’t make a profit on this small amount of fish, and my family’s income depends on it.”

The Ministry of Agriculture’s report revealed sharp declines across the sector in the first nine months of 2015, compared to the same period one year earlier.

The total catch of Cambodia’s commercial river fishery declined to 12,285 tonnes, from 24,000 tonnes, while the commercial maritime catch fell to 7,800 tonnes, from 9,100 tonnes.

Production of processed fish goods also decreased during the first nine months of the year, falling to 45,000 tonnes, compared to 52,000 tonnes during the same period last year.

One bright spot was aquaculture, with fish-farm production reaching 112,100 tonnes of shrimp and fish during the first nine months of the year, a 49 per cent increase over the same period a year earlier.

Production is on track to surpass the Ministry’s target of 144,000 tonnes in 2015.



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Villagers should adopt fish cage farming to increase yields. Government agencies should help to provide young fishes and ensure fishes in river and lake do not go extinct.

Paul Molyneaux's picture

Hi Erin,
This sad news is no surprise. Tonle Sap is the most important fisheries resource in Cambodia and its productivity is directly linked to water levels and the integrity of the surrounding forests that, when flooded, provide critical nursery areas for spawning and juvenile fish. These fish go on to populate the lake and the Mekong. As soon as the first dams went it it meant trouble for Tonle Sap and the millions of people who rely on fish from the lake. Cage farming can help when it is done right, but it produces less fish at a higher cost, and does not solve the problem. aquculture may even add to the problem by introducing exotic species and disease, as well as disrupting cultural norms around resource access and ownership. In short, technology cannot substitute for the power of nature and the wisdom of fishing people.
It is clear that the dams must be taken out, or operated in ways that allow maximum water levels in the lake and river during the rainy season. Riparian forests must also be restored and protected. This is the only way to produce more fish. If the Mekong system fisheries continue to decline, people will starve, and starving people will decimate whatever is left of the resource. Everyone knew this was coming when the dams went in.
Paul Molyneaux

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