This year’s catch of the fish used in the production of prahok – a ubiquitous pungent-smelling fermented fish paste used in a wide variety of local dishes – decreased slightly from last year, with officials blaming climate change for the downward trend in fish population.

The Fisheries Administration announced last week that the prahok fishing season along the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh and Kandal province would begin on December 12.

In Kandal province, Fisheries Administration director Heng Sophearith told The Post on December 16 that the amount of fish caught this year for making Prahok was slightly lower than last year.

“My overall assessment is that this year’s catch is a bit smaller due to their ecosystem’s lower water levels, which prevent the fish from spawning in larger numbers, and climate change may also be having an impact on their numbers,” he said.

Although lower than in previous years, he said this year’s catch will be enough to supply the local prahok market. Most of the fish were caught between December 12-14 and then the number of fish caught dropped by about 50 per cent on December 15.

Prahok producers buying fish in Sangvor village of Kandal province’s Ponhea Leu district on Tuesday. Heng Chivoan

“In the upper part of the river, people could catch one tonne of fish in about 20 to 30 minutes. Normally they’d catch even more than that. In the lower part of the river, they could catch from 600 to 800kg on average and then at the end around 300kg,” he said.

Sophearith said fish prices had also dropped this year with fishermen selling them at 1,000 riel ($0.25) per kg compared to between 2,000 and 4,000 riel per kg last year.

Sa Saleh, 70, a professional fisherman since 1980, confirmed that the fish yield this year was lower than in years past.

“Last year, we caught one tonne of fish in just one day but this year we couldn’t even reach one tonne in three days, which shows that the fish are only really abundant for a day or two once the fishing season begins,” he said.

He said that last year, fish sold at a price of 2,000 to 4,000 riel per kg, but this year it is just over 1,000 riel – a drop in price that he attributed to the pandemic.