Unfavorable weather and the lack of a market are threatening the livelihoods of blue mussel-raising communities in the Peam Krasop Protected Area, in Koh Kong province.
Production of blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) this year could fall below 2020 levels, resulting in limited funds for next year’s cultivation, according to Vong Dara, the head of one such community.
Dara’s is one of three Peam Krasop-based communities that raise the edible bivalve molluscs, according to Ministry of Environment director-general for Local Communities Khieu Borin.
Dara told The Post that blue mussels are typically harvested from September to March, but indicated that the harvest season this year could only start as early as end-December, due to unseasonal showers and thunderstorms.
“Traders from Vietnam and Thailand have come to see our mussels twice or thrice, but decided not to buy, saying the molluscs were too small and too thin” for commercial use, posing considerable headwinds to an already uncertain market, he said.
In September, the ministry organised a promotion event surrounding the Koh Kong blue mussels at Makro Supermarket in western Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district, in an effort to support biodiversity conservation in and around mangrove forests, and introduce the shellfish to a wider domestic audience.
Mangrove forests provide support in coastal saline or brackish waters for filter-feeders such as blue mussels, which are often found clumped together on tree roots.
But even so, Dara claims that there is very little demand, with most buyers wanting just over 10kg a day to cook in restaurants or sell in supermarkets.
“If the market remains this narrow, my community’s mussel diggers face a lack of capital to buy more stakes,” he said.
“Out of 150 members, only 30 per cent can afford to buy stakes and prepare for next year.”
But as the Gregorian New Year approaches, Dara hopes Thai traders will rush in and buy mussels for seasonal events, saying the community could start harvesting the molluscs by the end of the year.
Koh Kong provincial Department of Environment director Hun Marady told The Post that the local market for the mussels is predominantly geared towards travellers to the province, which is why he says demand is currently so low.
On the other hand, most Cambodians are still unfamiliar with the shellfish and have not acquired a palate for them, he said.
“The ministry is looking for markets. They’re available in supermarkets or hotels though, we’re encouraging them to serve the mussels to their customers,” Marady said.
Speaking at September’s event at Makro Sen Sok, ministry secretary of state Neth Pheaktra said the ministry will explore potential local markets for the molluscs and work to improve the livelihoods and family economies in communities within the Kingdom’s protected areas.
Dara notes that his community has some 186,100 blue mussel stakes set up in around 500ha of sea water, which yield an average of 3,163 tonnes of shellfish each year.
The community sells fresh shelled blue mussels at 1,500-2,000 riel ($0.37-0.49) per kilogramme, and de-shelled ones at 40,000-60,000 riel, translating to about $4,000-6,000 each year per household, according to him.