The export of fresh fisheries products in the first five months of 2022 reached nearly $39 million, a decrease of over 11 per cent year-on-year that the Fisheries Administration (FiA) has blamed on factors including climate change and illegal fishing.
According to a preliminary report from the administration, freshwater and marine fisheries exports totalled 1,291 tonnes in the January-May period, falling by 172 tonnes or 11.75 per cent year-on-year, and amounting to 12.91 per cent of the 10,000 tonne annual target for 2022.
FiA director-general Pum Sotha attributed the decrease in fisheries exports to a combination of natural and human causes. He named climate change, meeting the needs of a growing population and fisheries crime as the key reasons.
“Most of the fish we export are types such as ‘kes’ and striped snakehead [Channa striata], to Vietnam and Thailand. In the past, some were exported to China, but due to the re-emergence of Covid-19 there, we have suspended exports,” he said.
Sotha added that his department expects fish exports to rebound, “especially after we receive the green light from the General Administration of Customs [of China] for a trial export in late June”.
He said that the administration has been promoting the raising and exporting of “pra” fish in the hopes of increasing aquaculture exports to China in the future, and urging aquaculturists to practice proper sanitation so as to export the products without issue.
Vith Thearith, owner of the 7 Makara Fish Farm, one of three farms authorised to export “pra” fish to China, said aquaculturists currently face many problems due to the high cost of rearing fish, which have been exacerbated by the decline of fish prices in the domestic market.
He added that exports generally fetch higher prices than fish and fisheries products sold locally. The three farms have already negotiated with the processing plant prices of between 5,500 and 6,000 riel ($1.35 and $1.48), compared to local prices of just over 4,000 riel, he said.
“The price has breached 4,000 riel because the price of bran [to feed the fish] has risen from 800 to 1,500 riel per kilogramme. The price of feed and fuel has also risen, which has caused some aquaculturists to go bankrupt. The price of ‘pra’ fish, of between 5,500 riel to 6,000 riel, is still being discussed with the factory and has not been officially set yet,” he said.
Data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries show that in 2021, fresh fish exports amounted to 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 fisheries product exports reached 150 tonnes last year, or 7.50 per cent of the 2,000 tonne annual target, representing a decrease of 84 tonnes compared to the same period in 2020.
For reference, “pra” in the Khmer language quintessentially refers to Pangasius djambal, but could more broadly describe many – but not all – shark catfishes 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.
Similarly, while “kes” typically refers to Phalacronotus bleekeri, it could also include sheatfishes of genera in the Siluridae family such as Phalacronotus, Hemisilurus and Micronema.