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First ‘pra’ fish export for China in process

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A catch of Pangasius shark catfish, the variety most commonly referred to by the Khmer term ‘pra’. Heng Chivoan

First ‘pra’ fish export for China in process

Hun Ty Co Ltd, the sole company awarded the right to process iridescent shark catfish (Pangasianodon hypophthalmus) for export to China, is currently processing the first batch of 40 tonnes scheduled for Cambodia’s maiden trial shipment to Chinese shores next month, according to a senior fisheries official.

This comes after a July 20 meeting to hash out some remaining export-related issues, between a team from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ Fisheries Administration (FiA), Hun Ty and representatives of the three fish farms registered with the Chinese side, during which the processing company confirmed that it would have 40 tonnes ready for August.

The fish, sometimes referred to as simply “iridescent shark” despite not being a shark, is one of Cambodia’s more cultivated shark catfish varieties.

It is known in Khmer as “pra thom” and is one of the members of the “pra” shark-catfish category that can describe many – but not all – species of the Pangasius (P) genus (“po” types such as P larnaudii and P sanitwongsei being notable counterexamples) or other genera in the Pangasiidae family such as Helicophagus and Pangasianodon, but not Pseudolais.

FiA deputy director Hav Viseth told The Post on July 27 that the company was testing a production line to process roughly one tonne of iridescent shark catfish a day – far below full capacity – purchased from Yun Sovannarith Pra Fish Farm, one of the three farms that have been authorised to raise and supply the fish export to China.

He said that a chemical analysis of the meat of fish to be processed – conducted by the FiA as part of a quality and safety inspection – had yielded good results.

Hun Ty on July 23 started buying the fish from the farm, located in northern Phnom Penh’s Prek Pnov district, at one tonne per day for processing and freezing, he said, adding that the maiden export would serve as a way to gauge the Chinese people’s preference for Cambodian “pra” fish.

Viseth suggested that Hun Ty could sign purchase contracts with the other two farms depending on the results of the trial export. If successful, he said, “it’ll be clear that orders will pile on in greater numbers, and we want other fish-farm owners to register for an evaluation by Chinese Customs to be able to export more ‘pra’ fish to China”.

Of note, Chhuon Chamnan, director of the FiA’s Department of Fisheries Post-Harvest Technologies and Quality Control (DFPTQ), told The Post on June 20 that export of other “pra” species to China would require additional authorisation.

Yon Sovannarith Pra Fish Farm administrative director Um Chan Chamnan revealed that Hun Ty plans to increase its purchases to five tonnes per day down the road.

Without providing concrete figures, Chan Chamnan said the farm and company had entered into the current short-term contract at an “acceptable price”, noting that the agreement could last in the range of “one-to-two months”, due to the constant fluctuations in market rates for the fish.

“The company requires ‘pra’ fish that weigh between 900 and 1,100 grammes, all of which must be kept alive to preserve the freshness and quality of the meat. We are ready to expand operations when our ‘pra’ fish have the support of the Chinese,” he said, sharing that the farm also supplies about three tonnes of the shark catfishes to the local market.

Fisheries production in Cambodia reached 856,400 tonnes in 2021, down by more than 8.5 per cent from 936,300 tonnes a year earlier, according to data from the 2020 and 2021 annual fisheries reports.

Aquaculture accounted for 40.676 per cent at 348,350 tonnes, which was down by 13.0 per cent from 400,400 tonnes in 2020.

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