Snakehead fish farmers are required to register with the Fisheries Administration as part of new regulations aimed at better governing and monitoring an industry that became legal in April after an 11-year ban.
A prakas signed by Agriculture Minister Veng Sokhon last week urges snakehead fish farmers to become formally incorporated with the government so that they can receive technical training for sustainable practices.
According to Hav Viseth, deputy director-general of the Fisheries Administration, farmers that operate 150-square metre enclosures up to 2,000-square metre ponds, or have the maximum capacity to raise 35,000 fish, are required to register with the Ministry of Agriculture. Smaller farms with a capacity of no greater than 3,500 fish need only register with local authorities.
“This new regulation will help us control [snakehead] fish farming and provide efficient management,” said Viseth.
According to his data, there are at least 1,500 unregistered snakehead fish farms currently operating in Cambodia. However, the new regulations do not include penalties for those who fail to register, he said.
However, Viseth said the Fisheries Administration is hoping to encourage formal participation by offering technical training.
“If farmers follow our training, they will able to produce high quantities of fish to fulfil market demand,” he said.
The Fisheries Administration estimates that with proper guidance a farm with the capacity to raise 1,000 fish in a 100-square metre enclosure can produce nearly 1 tonne per year.
The Agriculture Ministry banned cage culture of snakehead fish in 2005 because the fish’s rapacious appetite for smaller species posed a threat to freshwater fish stocks.
The ministry’s decision to lift the decade-old ban was contingent on Cambodian farmers agreeing not to use local fish as feed, but rather import feed from neighbouring countries or find other solutions such as using animal carcasses.
Viseth said that if farmers are caught scouring Cambodia’s natural resources for small fish to feed their snakehead fish, they would be fined “according to the fisheries law.” He did not specify which articles or fines would apply.
Ho Yoem, a snakehead fish farmer in Kampong Chhnang province who raises nearly 1,000 fish per year, explained that importing feed was too expensive for her small business.
“I use the baby fish from the river, even though I know it is illegal, but I have no choice,” she said, adding that she was relieved when the government lifted the ban on raising snakehead fish, as it gave her less to worry about.
Yoem said she looks forward to receiving technical training because last year her fish farm lost $500 during the harvest season due to the increased cost of local fish feed.