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Seafood sales tanking as algal bloom raises health concerns

Fishermen load live crabs into bamboo crab cages in front of Kep’s Crab Market in May 2015.
Fishermen load live crabs into bamboo crab cages in front of Kep’s Crab Market in May 2015. Charlotte Pert

Seafood sales tanking as algal bloom raises health concerns

Demand for seafood throughout the Kingdom has slowed as a result of warnings issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Ministry of Environment to avoid coastal seafood consumption this past weekend, due to a massive algal bloom off the coast of Kep province.

Although the Environment Ministry announced yesterday that the ocean water had returned to its normal state, tourists and people living along the coast in Kep province were still advised to refrain from swimming in the water or consuming any seafood taken from it until this weekend, after authorities had a chance to clean the beach.

Kan Ponhrith, a project manager for CORIN Asia, an NGO that works on coastal and aquatic resources management issues around the Mekong region, said that the decomposing algae left scores of dead fish and coastal crabs in its wake.

“When a lot of algae appear on the surface of the sea, sea life cannot breathe oxygen,” he explained.

“But now the wind and waves have blown the algae away, returning everything to almost normal.”

Ponhrith said the algal bloom was most likely caused by drainage from mainland factories as well as illegal fishing in the neighbouring country of Vietnam, where fishermen employ environmentally disruptive techniques.

“Beach tourism and seafood vendors are impacted the most because tourists are scared of visiting the beach and eating seafood due to the public announcement,” he said.

The ocean water off of Kep province, as pictured above on Saturday, has been tinted dark green by an explosion of algae. Photo supplied
The ocean water off of Kep province, as pictured above on Saturday, has been tinted dark green by an explosion of algae. Photo supplied

Chhim Sovannarith, owner of acclaimed Kep seafood restaurant Mr. Mab, said customer visits declined by 50 per cent after the government issued its seafood health warnings. However, he said the economic impact would be felt throughout the province’s tourism industry.

“Not only has my restaurant lost customers but business has declined for businesses throughout Kep province,” he said. “Most customers with reservations have now cancelled their trip to Kep.”

Laing Heng, who sells fresh crab in Kep’s Crab Market, also claims to have lost more than half of her business as a result of the algal bloom. She said before the bloom she sold 50 kilos of crab a week and 100 kilos on the weekend, while now she is only able to sell 10 to 20 kilos of crab per day, even after reducing prices.

“If this situation persists, I am going to lose a lot of money,” Heng said. “I continue to eat crab as normal and have not experienced any problems, but people are always concerned about their health.”

Public concern over the safety of coastal seafood was apparent yesterday in the capital, where Van Dara, a seafood seller in Phnom Penh’s O’Russei Market, reported a sharp decline in sales despite the fact that he does not source any of his seafood from Kep.

“I noticed that demand decreased since the issue was publicly announced,” he said. “Everyone is scared to eat seafood because they are worried that it now has poisonous chemicals.”

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