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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - MoE weighs up Koh Kong shrimp farms

MoE weighs up Koh Kong shrimp farms

The Cambodian-American owner of a newly formed shrimp-farming company said he is

negotiating with the Ministry of Environment (MoE) to reintroduce the industry along

2,200 hectares of Koh Kong province's environmentally sensitive mangrove coastline.

Frank Le, chairman and chief executive officer of Biomarine, Inc, said the 1-year-old,

Phnom Penh-based company hopes to invest millions into shrimp farms in Botum Sakor

and Sre Ambel districts. The proposal includes 2,000 hectares of land under the jurisdiction

of the MoE, environmental NGO WildAid and the Forestry Administration.

"I can't say anything till the government makes its decision," Le said.

Le went to Koh Kong in March to examine the areas and discuss the project with provincial

authorities, he said. According to Le, local officials supported the idea but said

the area proposed for investment is under the control of the MoE and WildAid.

"Provincial governors agreed that my company could invest for 90 years. Now

I'm waiting to see the green light from MoE," said Le, who has been a business

owner in the US since 1985. "If the MoE allows us to invest, I will start my

project immediately."

He said the enterprise will cost about $1 million over the first three years and

may employ as many as 500 local residents. If the project is successful, the company

will expand its operations and hire more workers.

Le said Koh Kong and Sihanoukville are the only provinces in Cambodia suitable for

shrimp farming. He claimed that Biomarine's method of shrimp farming will not adversely

affect the environment nor pollute nearby areas.

"At the beginning of the project some mangroves will be damaged, but afterwards

more will be replanted than were there before," he said.

Keo Pich, deputy governor of Botum Sakor district, said company officials visited

Prek Reak, Kandoal and Andong Teuk communes several times in April to examine the

areas as potential shrimp farming sites.

Pich said the district authority could provide 200 hectares for investment but Biomarine

required more. This proposal now calls for 2,000 hectares of land managed by the

MoE, WildAid and Forestry Administration.

"We are happy with the investment, but the decision must come from the government.

It is out of our reach, Pich said.

Son Dara, general secretary of Koh Kong in charge of investment, said he is working

with the company to seek permission from the MoE because the area that the company

plans to develop will affect land within Botum Sakor National Park.

Dara said the Koh Kong environment office sent a proposal to the MoE in October requesting

approval of Biomarine's investment plan.

"The company has fulfilled all investment law requirements," Dara said.

"If the MoE grants a license, the government will receive lots of income."

Dara said he has inspected the project and found that it will not pollute the environment.

Hundreds of people in the province will receive jobs and training on new shrimp-farming

techniques.

In the past, many shrimp farms in Koh Kong province were bankrupted by diseases that

decimated their stock, Dara said.

Tao Sinthuon, chief of Koh Kong province's environmental office, said he did not

see the proposal allegedly sent to the MoE through his office.

Mok Mareth, Minister of the MoE, could not be contacted for comment.

Delphine Vann Roe, deputy country director of WildAid, said shrimp farming along

the coast of Botum Sakor would have disastrous effects on the area's mangroves and

coastal ecosystems. She said the proposed location is important habitat for marine

life and provides sustenance for thousands of fishing families.

"It is very detrimental to both marine and coastal ecosystems - destroying mangroves,

polluting coastline areas and infecting everything with bacteria. It destroys the

livelihood of fishermen and doesn't provide income to communities," Vann Roe

said.

She said that in Koh Kong there are several sites of shrimp farms that were abandoned

when they stopped being productive. Shrimp farms generally last only five years and

are, overall, a "lousy" business scheme, she said.

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