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‘Pra’ fish exports to China at hand

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A basket loaded with ‘pra’ fish, which could soon be exported directly to China. SUPPLIED

‘Pra’ fish exports to China at hand

Chinese customs has given Cambodia three weeks to ensure that a list of shortcomings will be taken care of, as required by Beijing, before signing a formal protocol allowing the direct export of Cambodian “pra” fish to China.

“Pra” in the Khmer language quintessentially refers to Pangasius djambal, but could more broadly describe many – but not all – shark catfish 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.

It was not immediately clear which specific species could be exported.

A working group of the Fisheries Administration (FiA) held a series of virtual meetings with Chinese customs over January 20-28.

Thay Somony, director of the FiA’s Aquaculture Development Department, told The Post on January 31 that Beijing had given the green light for “pra” exports, but imposed some additional conditions that would require adjustments in fisheries management.

Exports will initially be limited to fish produced by three farms – in Kandal and Kampong Thom provinces, and in northern Phnom Penh’s Prek Pnov district – and processed by a facility in Sen Sok district’s Phnom Penh Thmey commune in the western part of the capital, he said.

A small number of shortcomings will need to be remedied at all four locations, and an updated report must be submitted “before February 25”, he said, suggesting a February 24 deadline.

The FiA has been busy preparing the paperwork and holding meetings with the owners of the farms and processing facility to fill in the gaps as needed, and send everything to Chinese customs as scheduled, he said.

“Once the three fish farms and processing plant have adapted to the conditions required by the Chinese side, an official protocol will be signed between the agriculture minister and the Chinese General Administration of Customs to enable the export of ‘pra’ fish to China.

“Later, negotiations will be held with processing companies that want to export to China on price and demand issues,” Somony said, adding that other farms and processors that comply with Chinese aquaculture standards could register at the FiA and potentially be allowed to export down the road.

Vith Thearith owns the Prampi Makara fish farm in southeastern Kandal’s Sa’ang district, one of the three that were tentatively approved by Chinese customs to export to China.

He told The Post that he and other fishermen have been looking forward to this watershed moment, with just a handful of tweaks to operations standing in the way of establishing exports of “pra” fish to the Chinese market.

“The Chinese side only asked us to correct two things, firstly, to use pesticides in the feed depot to ward off rats and other pests. Secondly, they need to have a clear record of varieties and water quality.

“To be clear, we do abide by both, we just didn’t include that in the report. So these two requirements are not a problem for us,” he said.

Thearith believes his “pra” fish will fetch a greater price on the Chinese market, shoring up profits.

Cambodian Aquaculturist Association president Sok Raden owns another of the three fish farms, in Santuk district’s Kampong Thma commune of southeastern Kampong Thom.

Exports of Cambodian “pra” fish to China would solve the bulk of market problems weighing on farmers, he said. “It is hoped that all aquaculturists, especially ‘pra’ fish farmers, will change their farming practices and adopt standard farming techniques so that they can export to China.”

According to Somony, the FiA will hold a meeting with the owners of the fish farms and processing plant on February 3 on the required paperwork.

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