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Fisheries exports dip amid dearth of processing experts

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Vendors selling dried fishes at Chrang Chamres market in Phnom Penh's Russey Keo district last year. Heng Chivoan

Fisheries exports dip amid dearth of processing experts

Cambodian exports of fresh and processed capture fisheries products saw a marked year-on-year drop in the January-July period, barely missing the 2,000 tonne mark, as a senior official noted that the Kingdom lags behind in technical expertise when it comes to turning raw fish and other aquatic species into higher-value items.

In the first seven months of 2022, the total freshwater and marine capture fisheries production amounted to 24,500 tonnes and 6,860 tonnes, respectively, falling by 7,410 tonnes and 100 tonnes on a yearly basis, reported the Fisheries Administration (FiA), which is under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

During the same period, fresh and processed capture fisheries exports weighed in at 1,933 tonnes and 41 tonnes, the former of which decreased by 326 tonnes from the same time last year.

For reference, ministry data show that in 2021, fresh capture fisheries exports were 2,916 tonnes, or 36.45 per cent of the annual target of 8,000 tonnes. This marked a 971 tonne or 50 per cent increase over 2020. Processed capture fisheries exports reached 150 tonnes, or 7.50 per cent of the 2,000 tonne annual target, representing a decrease of 84 tonnes compared to 2020.

FiA deputy director Hav Viseth told The Post on August 17 that the fresh fisheries exports are for the most part organic, while the processed items include dried and smoked fish, along with fermented-fish products prahok and pha’ak. These goods are shipped in yet-limited quantities to the US and other countries with a sizeable Cambodian diaspora, he said.

He underscored that processed fisheries exports have been held back due to a lack of technical experts in processing fish for the international market, calling for companies intending to ship these goods overseas to train more professionals in the field to make certain that the endeavour comes to a satisfactory conclusion.

Viseth said the FiA “has been negotiating to open the gates for the private sector to be able to export products abroad, but private companies also need to actively participate in this work to ensure the success of the exports.

“Hence more human resource training is essential.”

Chav Soursdey, CEO of Cambodia Fresh Farm, whose plans to export processed tilapia to Japan were recently pushed back to later this year, said that although there is high demand in the market for processed fish, processors have been reluctant to diversify their offerings due to steep capital requirements and market uncertainty.

He called on prospective exporters of processed fisheries products to gauge their target markets thoroughly, noting that variations in quality standards across localities are negligible compared to the differing tastes and preferences of consumers.

Soursdey shared that plans to ship tilapia to Japan were put on ice after an inspection by the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) required adjustments to the farm’s recently-completed processing plant, which he expects to be completed “within a month”.

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