Vietnam plans to strengthen and expand aquaculture cooperation with Cambodia, and provide the Kingdom with modern technology in a bid to spur development in the sector, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

At a working meeting with agriculture minister Veng Sakhon last week, Vietnamese ambassador Nguyen Huy Tang contended that his country’s provision of suitable, modern technologies would accelerate economic growth in both countries, the ministry said in a statement.

Acknowledging that fish production from capture fisheries in the Kingdom has been on a gradual downslope despite rising local demand, the minister voiced support for further cooperative engagement in aquaculture.

According to data from Cambodia’s 2020 and 2021 annual fisheries reports, although marine capture fisheries inched up 1.9 per cent to 125,000 tonnes last year from 122,700 tonnes in 2020, freshwater capture fisheries and aquaculture reached just 383,050 tonnes and 348,350 tonnes in 2021, respectively, down by 7.3 per cent and 13.0 per cent from 413,200 tonnes and 400,400 tonnes a year earlier.

This slump in fisheries production has prompted the ministry and other government bodies to place a higher priority on both marine and freshwater aquaculture development, the minister said.

This entails added support and motivation for aquaculturists and capacity building of fish raising techniques, including providing the know-how to select the best performing specimens and feed, and maintain optimal control of the environmental conditions necessary to ensure sufficient domestic supply of quality product that is safe for consumption, he said.

Mong Reththy Group vice-president and agricultural researcher Tan Monivann sees the offer as an “important opportunity” for Cambodia to beef up its aquaculture sector, highlighting Vietnam’s strengths in the field, and agriculture overall.

Employing technologies originating from Japan and Israel, the Vietnamese and Thai aquaculture sectors have emerged as high-tech juggernauts in ASEAN, and Cambodia should learn more from them to develop its own ecosystem, he opined.

Aquaculture development in Cambodia has remained sluggish over the years, constrained by a general lack of skills, technical capacity and insufficient access to markets, as spiralling operating costs eat away at already thin profit margins.

Monivann underscored that aquaculture researchers and experts in the Kingdom are far outnumbered by their land-based agricultural counterparts, and that adverse market forces have discouraged aquaculturists from sticking to the trade, let alone investing in building their capacity.

“But I expect that, with technical assistance from Vietnam, and Cambodia being able to export to the Chinese market as well, Cambodian aquaculture exports will without a doubt see growth,” he said.

For context, Cambodia and China are currently negotiating a protocol that will allow the Kingdom to directly export ‘pra’ type shark catfish to the Chinese market, in a move largely expected to be a shot in the arm for the beleaguered Cambodian aquaculture sector.

“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.

Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) vice-president Lim Heng welcomed Vietnam’s offer to extend a hand to the Cambodian aquaculture sector, saying that locals often fail in the craft, whereas Vietnamese traders at the border tend to excel.

Today most aquaculture practitioners in Cambodia are overseas Vietnamese with strong technical skills in fish farming who have been in the trade for a long time and have relatively large market bases to sell their products, he said, citing CCC studies conducted in collaboration with the agriculture ministry.

Heng called for knowledge and experience sharing, and other forms of cooperation with Vietnam to enhance development in the Cambodian aquaculture sector.

The CCC vice-president insisted that with deep technical expertise, the sector would have little to worry about in the way of market issues, reasoning that free trade agreements (FTA) entered into by the Kingdom would be conducive to agricultural exports and resolve the most pressing concerns facing the local community.

He highlighted the FTA with South Korea, which he said provides preferential access for “almost 100 per cent” of Cambodian agricultural items.