Fishermen on the Tonle Sap river are smelling success: The season’s first harvest of the fish now being crushed into the famously pungent prahok has hauled in a bounty set to almost double last year’s catch.
As the fishermen temporarily packed their nets ahead of last night’s full moon, marking a pause in the frenzied fishing of prahok season, fisheries officials and others in the business said that this year’s high water levels had brought a welcome turnaround in fortunes compared to the poor harvest a year ago.
“It will satisfy the demand for fish to process into prahok,” said Nao Thouk, secretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Water levels were 1.5 metres higher than last year, he said. The Tonle Sap has been teeming with fish being carried in its flow as it once again drains towards the Mekong.
Last season’s yield was roughly 10,000 tonnes, Thouk said. This season, fishermen are looking at a total haul of 15,000 to 20,000 tonnes. The average catch in recent years has been around 12,500 tonnes, he added.
Finger-sized fish for making prahok – typically mudfish – are collected in giant nets called dai over two periods of peak activity, each lasting about two weeks ahead of a full moon. They are then gutted, crushed, dried, salted and fermented until they become the much-loved – though for many foreigners highly divisive – fish paste.
The first peak this season was from December 22 to 27, with fishing continuing until early yesterday morning. The second peak period is expected from January 21 to 26.
Chhin Chansa, the owner of one of 60 allotted dai operating on the river, said he had collected about 80 tonnes of fish during the first period.
He had sold the fish to a broker for about 1,400 riel per kilogram – which would amount to total revenue of $28,000 – but after the costs of equipment, labour and rents, his estimated profit for the season would be $2,000 to $3,000, Chansa said.
“The result is that we got a lot more fish than last year,” Chansa said.
Another dai owner, Phe Van, said he thought he could do even better during the second fishing period.
“During the first period I collected around 60 tonnes – it was a smaller amount because of rains and storms,” Van explained. “I hope the next period will give me 100 tonnes.”
Luy Maly, a prahok seller, has made her first order of about 50 kilograms of fish, and noted that the prahok supply lines were smooth flowing.
“This season is good for me,” she said. “I get a fair price and all the amount that I want.”