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‘Pra’ fish sector meets terms for Chinese export protocol

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Fishermen show off their catches of ‘pra’ type shark catfish, which may soon be able to be exported to China. Heng Chivoan

‘Pra’ fish sector meets terms for Chinese export protocol

The Fisheries Administration (FiA) is waiting for the green light from Beijing to sign a formal protocol allowing the direct export of Cambodian “pra” fish to China, after correcting a list of shortcomings issued by Chinese customs in late January, according to a senior FiA official.

Thay Somony, director of the FiA’s Aquaculture Development Department, told The Post on March 7 that the General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China (GACC) had given the Kingdom “until February 25” to fix a number of faults concerning the three fish farms and processing plant to be initially licensed to export – all four of which are now in full compliance.

Somony confirmed that an official letter and report regarding the modifications made to mitigate the shortcomings has been sent to the Chinese authorities, which have yet to reply.

“If the Chinese side is content with the adjustments, a formal protocol [could be signed] between the [GACC] and the agriculture ministry to be able to bring ‘pra’ fish to China,” he said.

“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.

Somony said negotiations on price and demand issues would be held with processing companies that want to export to China in the future, to set rates that both local farmers and Chinese players can accept.

Cambodian Aquaculturist Association (CAA) president Sok Raden said the aquaculture sector was eagerly waiting for any news in connection with “pra” fish to China, as the market rates for the shark catfishes trend down amid increasing production costs.

“‘Pra’ fish is still cheap, but fuel and feed prices are higher. But there is some hope, and farmers expect to be able to export to China soon,” he said.

Industry insiders have told The Post that the market rates of locally-raised “pra” fish have fallen around 20 per cent on average during the Covid era.

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.

Thearith anticipates that the agriculture ministry will get back to the farm soon with good news, voicing optimism that access to the Chinese market would be a boon for ‘pra’ fish, which he affirmed had seen a considerable decline in prices.

“‘Pra’ fish are cheaper now, with [per-kilogramme] wholesale selling rates at just over 4,000 riel [$0.97], while rising feed and fuel prices push production costs higher, making farmers almost unprofitable,” he said.

The FiA has invited other ‘pra’ fish farms and processors wanting to export to China to apply at the administration, should they comply with Cambodian and Chinese aquaculture standards.

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