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Where have the fish gone?


Fishermen say that the fish needed to make Cambodia’s much-loved, if pungent, prahok are harder to find – and prices have risen accordingly


Fishermen outside the NagaWorld Hotel and Casino in Phnom Penh display their catch of prahok fish.

A FLEET of 30 fishing boats rocks gently amid the windy rushes of the Tonle Sap riverbank in front of the Nagaworld Hotel and Casino, where sellers and buyers flock around the newly caught "riel fish". It is prahok season, the time for making the renowned fermented fish paste, but the fishermen complain that their catch is half the size of last year's.

"I only catch 100 kilograms per day of the small ones, and of the big fish I can only find 10 to 20 kilograms per day," 54-year-old fisherman Sin Sas said, adding that "last year, I caught from 200 to 300 kilograms each day".

She said she had been fishing since her childhood, but this year - for the first time ever - she has literally doubled her prices. 

"Last year, I sold one kilogram for 800 to 1,000 riels, and this year the price is 1,800 to 2,000 riels for the same amount of fish," she said, adding that she is making around US$50 per day, which is her main income for the rest of the year.

Sin Sas's story of higher prices and fewer fish was repeated by all the buyers and sellers swarming the riverbank outside the hotel.

"This year, the small fish cost me 1,600 riels per kilogram, but last year was only 500 to 600 riels," 40-year-old buyer Vy Sokha said.

But Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Chan Sarun said Sunday that, despite a bad start for the fishing season in December, enough fish were being caught now.

"Some 120,000 tonnes of fish [for making prahok] have been caught so far in January 2009 out of a needed supply of 140,000 tonnes," Chan Sarun said, adding that he went to Kampong Chhnang and Kompong Speu, where the price for one kilogram was only 800 to 1,000 riels.

Protein for the poor

The catch is followed closely because prahok provides Cambodians a huge part of their needed  protein throughout the year,  Dr Veng Thai, director of Phnom Penh's Muncipal Health Department, told the Post.

"[Fish paste] provides Cambodians with a lot of protein," he said.

He added that  the cheap price of prahok compared with beef and pork makes it a favourite among poorer people.



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