Over the past two to three years, the government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, has launched a series of new strategies to enhance the aquaculture sector’s capacity to meet domestic demand, leading to exports.

But despite such initiatives, domestic fish farming in general does not currently appear to be showing positive signs, according to aquaculture sector actors.

In order to encourage fish raising, Prime Minister Hun Sen, during a visit to the Fish Breeding Research and Development Centre in Peamro district of western Prey Veng province in July 2020, told Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth to increase the budget by $5 million.

This was intended to encourage people to return to fish farming, with the government having already disbursed $500,000.

According to Hun Sen, as of mid-2020, more than 46,000 Cambodian households were breeding fish. At the same time, he advised agriculture minister Veng Sakhon to encourage further fish farming to reach the 50,000 mark.

Cambodian Aquaculturist Association (CAA) president Sok Raden told The Post that Cambodia’s aquaculture sector is currently facing many challenges, making it difficult for some fish farmers to expand or continue business operations.

If the situation persists, he said, the sector may stagnate.

To revitalise the aquaculture sector, cooperation between all relevant parties – both public and private – is necessary, to find common solutions to stimulate development, he added.

“An unfavourable market and higher costs have posed many challenges for Cambodian aquaculturalists, with some having put their breeding plans on hold,” he said.

According to Raden, the challenges facing Cambodian fish farmers include a lack of market for local products due to an influx of fish from Vietnam and lack of control over sources and quality, with many fish species imported uncontrolled.

There are also high production costs, he said, especially high feed prices and bank interest rates, as well as high electricity and shipping costs compared to neighbouring countries.

Regarding the government’s plan to stimulate the aquaculture sector to meet domestic demand and export to international markets, Raden said that even the “pra” fish that Cambodia plans to export to China in May or July have become less profitable due to higher breeding costs and lower sale prices.

Phorn Rany, the owner of CAN fish farm in eastern Prey Veng’s Mesang district, said that due to a lack of funds to support the enterprise and a number of other issues, fish farming had to be put on ice.

The main challenges, he said, were the lack of a market due to large imports of fish from Vietnam, with local prices unable to compete with imported fish, as well as high electricity and feed prices.

“Currently, many fish farmers have given up the business. There are so many problems, but the market conditions and prices are the main reasons,” he said.

He said he did not know when it would be possible to resume his business.

However, he said: “If there is good management and the rules for fish imports from abroad are followed, the aquaculture sector in Cambodia can return to normal.”

Hang Heang, owner of a 2.5ha fish farm in Donkeo town of Takeo province, said that during this period last year, he sold nearly three million juvenile fish, but now it is only just over one million.

He did not know the exact reason for the drop in sales, he said, perhaps rising food prices due to the Russian military offensive against Ukrainian and lower prices for fish on the market, but he could barely cover costs.

He added that he believed the current price of imported juvenile fish from Vietnam to distribute in Cambodia to be high.

“Due to an uncertain market, low sale prices and high feed prices, I do not know how the future of fish farming will be,” he said.

The owner of a fish farm in Takeo province said he breeds a number of fish species, such as “pra” type shark catfishes, “andeng” type elongated catfishes and “chhpeun” – cyprinid fishes of the Hypsibarbus genus, typically Hypsibarbus malcolmi.

The agriculture minister previously told The Post that the government is working to boost aquaculture to increase domestic supply capacity and for Cambodian fish to be exported in the future.

Sakhon said the government plans to encourage 50,000 to 100,000 families to raise fish and frogs in plastic tents, which can be harvested in just three months.

“I believe that through this effort, the private sector will see that Cambodia can reach the point of exporting fish to international markets by raising fish for export in a way that meets our market demand.

“We need to improve breeding to meet their standards while the government is improving the transport of goods,” he said.

The agriculture ministry reported that fish and shrimp farming production reached 348,350 tonnes last year – down by 13.00 per cent or 52,050 tonnes over 2020 – equivalent to 72.42 per cent of the target of 481,000 tonnes.