The season for making prahok, the fermented fish paste that is a staple of the Cambodian diet, has opened this month amid mixed forecasts for the annual catch.
Prahok production, which fuels the Kingdom’s largest annual fish harvest, sustains the incomes of thousands of Cambodians, particular around the Tonle Sap lake. But community representatives say low water levels and illegal fishing have so far resulted in a small turnout of the Siamese mud carp, or trey riel, species used to produce the foodstuff.
Minh Bunly, coordinator of community-based Fishery Action Coalition Team on Tonle Sap Lake, said that in Siem Reap province catches have so far been significantly lower than this time last year.
“Interception of fishery crimes has increased, but the drought has lasted too long, which leads to a low water level,” he explained. “So the quantity of fish this year will not be like in the past.”
However, he noted that recent days have seen catches grow – a trend that may continue if water levels rise with regular monthly rains.
Phat Phalla, director of the Cambodia Fishing Community in Kampong Chhnang, reported that recent days’ up-tick in catches has inspired a rush in sales of prahok fish, which costs 800 to 1,200 riel (around $0.20 to $0.30) per kilogram.
“Now the huge traders are hurrying to buy fish for processing into feeds for fish and other animals. Some of them bought thousands of tonnes . . . while farmers from remote areas have not yet arrived.”