The largest fish harvest of the year is approaching, and Phnom Penh’s fish markets are about to get busy.
In short, it’s December and so prahok season is upon us.
A traditional Cambodian fish paste, prahok is made from fermented Siamese mud carp called trey riel in Khmer.
Along the Mekong, fishermen are preparing to fill their nets with the heavy catches.
“Prahok fish season usually starts in mid-January, but it could start earlier this year if the weather condition is good,” Nao Thuok, director general of the Fisheries Administration, said, adding that he anticipated a better year than 2012’s meagre showing.
Thuok claims the yield could increase by at least 10 per cent, aided by heavy flooding in recent months.
Fishermen, buoyed by thoughts of big catches, have high hopes.
A veteran of seven years, Seng Mat said he has been preparing for the season since late August.
“I have bought all the necessary equipment like a net, new wire, checking the dai [storage container], and having the fishing trap fixed.”
“I hope to catch more fish [this year],” he said, adding that he’d lost thousands of dollars in 2012 after taking hits on dwindling volume and fishing fees.
Dai owners are required to pay around $10,000 in tax each fishing season, which allows them to fish within a one kilometre radius of their dai.
Kashim Jevarheat, a fisherman who also lost money last year, said higher rainfalls meant higher yields.
“Due to big floods this year, I hope we get more fish for this year’s haul. There were fewer fish [in 2012] compared with 2011,” she said, adding that she has already spent around $15,000 on equipment to catch the tiny, slim fish.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the yield for the 2012-2013 season fell by 28,000 tonnes compared with the previous harvest.
Trey reil sells for 800 to 1,500 riel ($0.2 to $0.385) per kilogram, though the bigger fish can fetch up to 5,000 riel per kilogram. Cambodians from nearby provinces flock to the markets for trey riel.
Prahok is common at the Cambodian dinner table, but the fish paste is also popular in neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam. Nor Ryas, who fishes along the Mekong, said there are Vietnamese buyers who stop by with larger ships during the peak season.
“They ship 10 tonnes of trey riel back to Vietnam and turn it in to prahok too,” she said.
Ryas was told by her Vietnamese buyer to expect a big haul this year. But after the 2012 let-down, she’s sceptical.
“They always foresee the amount of the fish harvest, but it has never been correct.”