Jin Yu Tang (Cambodia) Fishery Co Ltd plans to splash out an unspecified amount on “marine fish aquaculture in submerged cages”, on Preah Sihanouk province’s Koh Dek Koul and Koh Thas islands, according to Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Veng Sakhon on January 11.

The minister wrote in a Facebook post that he had discussed the project – set to cover a surface area of 1,984ha in Phase I – at the ministry earlier that day with a company representative, whom he identified only as “Ms Jessica”.

Sakhon said the undertaking would be invaluable for the development of the Cambodian fisheries sector: creating jobs for locals, increasing the number of fish at sea, and shoring up marine aquaculture production to meet local demand.

The minister said he had directed Jin Yu Tang – with a name meaning “enter the jade hall” – to submit an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) report and supporting documents for the project to the ministry.

However, the company must first get the nod from the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) before it can sign an agreement with the ministry, and set the project in motion, he pointed out.

Sakhon confirmed to The Post on January 11 that his ministry had granted in-principle approval to the venture and asked Jin Yu Tang to file to the Ministry of Environment the necessary paperwork on the potential impact of the fish raising entailed in the project.

He said the environment ministry has since received the documents, although he hinted that the company had been obliged to make some adjustments.

Underlining the general importance of respecting Cambodian laws during the project approval process, he explained that companies must apply for the appropriate licences from the CDC and obtain other relevant government permits and approvals.

The undertaking would be the first of its kind at this scale, he said, noting that marine aquaculture had historically been practised solely by a few fishing communities in estuaries and along the seashore.

In contrast, Vietnam and the Chinese island province of Hainan are major producers and exporters of both freshwater and marine aquaculture products, he remarked.

“The [agriculture] ministry has only just received the company’s investment proposal. We haven’t really had other investors taking much of an interest in marine aquaculture here in Cambodia, though there are tonnes of similar enterprises in other countries,” Sakhon said.

“This is a special consideration to keep in mind that could benefit Cambodia’s economy down the road.”

At the meeting with the minister, “Ms Jessica” voiced appreciation to the minister, relevant ministries and technical officials for their guidance, insight and other support during the studies and discussions for the project since Jin Yu Tang penned a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the agriculture ministry on January 31, 2017, according to the Facebook post.

The company representative also reported “spectacular results” from the ESIA process, and commented that the relevant authorities had labelled Koh Thas as the most suitable and potentially valuable area for the project.

Koh Dek Koul and Koh Thas islands are just west of Sihanoukville beyond Koh Puos, or Snake island.

The company was established as a joint venture between Jin Yu Tang (Shenzhen) Fishery Co Ltd and Khmer First Investment Holding Group Co Ltd with registered capital of $10 million, according to Hong Kong-listed China Ocean Group Development Ltd.

In December 2016, the publicly-traded group – then known as China Ocean Fishing Holdings Ltd – acquired Jin Yu Tang Shenzhen, financial news website MarketScreener noted in a post.

On its home page, China Ocean Group Development says that it is incorporated in Bermuda with limited liability, and that its subsidiaries are mainly engaged in distant-water fishing, aquaculture, fisheries trade, aquatic product processing, scientific research and technological services.

And as for Khmer First Holding, the Chinese state-backed China Daily Asia Pacific Bureau describes it as “a Phnom Penh-based Chinese conglomerate of mining, finance and media”.

The Ministry of Commerce’s business registry shows that Jin Yu Tang Cambodia was incorporated on January 13, 2017 (just 18 days before the MoU signing). Online database OpenCorporates confirms Jin Yu Tang Shenzhen and Khmer First Holding as shareholders, listing only “Cao Yunde” as a director or officer of the latter.