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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Shrimp farms nose dive

Shrimp farms nose dive

shrimp.jpg
shrimp.jpg

Shrimps are dropping like flies in Koh Kong.

FIFTY-seven shrimp farms in Koh Kong, out of a total of 67, have failed in the past

two years leaving debts in the tens of millions of dollars and reducing employment

in the industry by 90 percent.

Documents obtained from officials in Koh Kong showed only 10 farms remain, the rest

having failed because of poor aqua culture techniques and disease among the stock.

Koh Kong governor Rong Plamkesan said that the industry is on the brink of total

collapse because no-one was prepared to invest any more capital into it.

Shrimp farming was once touted as an economic bonanza for Cambodia because most of

the product was exported to Thailand.

But the payoff has never materialized and instead investors have lost their money

as quickly as the crustaceans have fallen ill and died.

Seak Sophat, a student from the Asian Institute of Technology's Aqua-cultural and

Aquatic Resources Management Department, wrote a report on the causes of the farms'

failures.

He said that the shrimps died because: the sea water in their ponds had not been

properly treated and oxygenated, there were no plants growing in the ponds, there

was too high a level of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the water and the acidity

of the water was not correctly regulated.

He said the farmers tried to cure the ailing shrimps by dosing them with medicines

and extra food but they never adressed the underlying problems.

He said that all their efforts did was to hasten the demise of their fishery because

it silted up the water and the shrimps' gills became clogged up.

He was also critical of the lack of knowledge on the part of the farmers of shrimp

diseases and the absence of monitoring for parasites like shrimp lice.

Meanwhile the pressure on the farmers from the huge debts they have incurred and

the failure of their business has started to tell.

Koh Kong environment director Sao Sin Thon said that one farmer named Soeun suffered

a fatal heart attack after his shrimp died in the ponds and those he had already

harvested were lost overboard as they were being shipped to market.

Farmers said that they had borrowed heavily to set up the farms and now they had

no way of paying the money back. Mostly it is owed to Thai investors.

Chek Thean, 72, is one of those who is facing ruin. He said many of his fellow farmers

had simply stopped work and fled their debts.

He estimated that most of the farmers owed between $2.5 to 3 million each.

He said his total debt was now around $43,000 but he had already lost a house in

Thailand to a mortgage sale by his bank and while he once owned 11 shrimp farms in

Thailand he now had only one.

He blamed a mystery disease for the sudden death of many of the shrimps saying the

cause had even baffled experts he brought in to look at the problem.

But he said despite all the problems he would continue with his one farm. He is placing

his hopes in wild shrimps, saying he thought they would be more resistant to disease.

But his efforts are half hearted. He admitted that he did not know how many shrimp

were in his farm and added he had not so far even bothered to feed them.

Thean started his business in 1996 and since that time he says he has not only received

no income from the farms but he has lost all the property he accumulated up till

then.

"I never got any benefit from shrimp farming since I started this business,"

he said.

But he added that he could not afford to stop trying and that he had to risk everything

to make some money because he was too old to start another business.

He said he would like to go back to being a fisherman but felt that he was too old

so he would just keep one farm going and grow coconuts on the site of his other ponds.

Some farmers have abandoned the shrimp in favor of farming other forms of fish but

nothing on the scale of shrimp farming at its most intense.

According to documents from Koh Kong's agriculture department there were 585 hectares

of land devoted to shrimp farming in 1997 but half that area is now being used for

other activities while the remaining land - still nominally shrimp farm - is mostly

in disuse.

Alternative forms of aquaculture such as mussel farming accounts for only about 20

hectares now.

Sao Sin Thon, said that there used to be many shrimp farms a few years ago but everything

is quiet now - many of the farmers having abandoned their farms and left the

area.

"They used to be rich men but now most of them are turning into poor men,"

he said.

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