Shrimps are dropping like flies in Koh Kong.
FIFTY-seven shrimp farms in Koh Kong, out of a total of 67, have failed in the past
two years leaving debts in the tens of millions of dollars and reducing employment
in the industry by 90 percent.
Documents obtained from officials in Koh Kong showed only 10 farms remain, the rest
having failed because of poor aqua culture techniques and disease among the stock.
Koh Kong governor Rong Plamkesan said that the industry is on the brink of total
collapse because no-one was prepared to invest any more capital into it.
Shrimp farming was once touted as an economic bonanza for Cambodia because most of
the product was exported to Thailand.
But the payoff has never materialized and instead investors have lost their money
as quickly as the crustaceans have fallen ill and died.
Seak Sophat, a student from the Asian Institute of Technology's Aqua-cultural and
Aquatic Resources Management Department, wrote a report on the causes of the farms'
He said that the shrimps died because: the sea water in their ponds had not been
properly treated and oxygenated, there were no plants growing in the ponds, there
was too high a level of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the water and the acidity
of the water was not correctly regulated.
He said the farmers tried to cure the ailing shrimps by dosing them with medicines
and extra food but they never adressed the underlying problems.
He said that all their efforts did was to hasten the demise of their fishery because
it silted up the water and the shrimps' gills became clogged up.
He was also critical of the lack of knowledge on the part of the farmers of shrimp
diseases and the absence of monitoring for parasites like shrimp lice.
Meanwhile the pressure on the farmers from the huge debts they have incurred and
the failure of their business has started to tell.
Koh Kong environment director Sao Sin Thon said that one farmer named Soeun suffered
a fatal heart attack after his shrimp died in the ponds and those he had already
harvested were lost overboard as they were being shipped to market.
Farmers said that they had borrowed heavily to set up the farms and now they had
no way of paying the money back. Mostly it is owed to Thai investors.
Chek Thean, 72, is one of those who is facing ruin. He said many of his fellow farmers
had simply stopped work and fled their debts.
He estimated that most of the farmers owed between $2.5 to 3 million each.
He said his total debt was now around $43,000 but he had already lost a house in
Thailand to a mortgage sale by his bank and while he once owned 11 shrimp farms in
Thailand he now had only one.
He blamed a mystery disease for the sudden death of many of the shrimps saying the
cause had even baffled experts he brought in to look at the problem.
But he said despite all the problems he would continue with his one farm. He is placing
his hopes in wild shrimps, saying he thought they would be more resistant to disease.
But his efforts are half hearted. He admitted that he did not know how many shrimp
were in his farm and added he had not so far even bothered to feed them.
Thean started his business in 1996 and since that time he says he has not only received
no income from the farms but he has lost all the property he accumulated up till
"I never got any benefit from shrimp farming since I started this business,"
But he added that he could not afford to stop trying and that he had to risk everything
to make some money because he was too old to start another business.
He said he would like to go back to being a fisherman but felt that he was too old
so he would just keep one farm going and grow coconuts on the site of his other ponds.
Some farmers have abandoned the shrimp in favor of farming other forms of fish but
nothing on the scale of shrimp farming at its most intense.
According to documents from Koh Kong's agriculture department there were 585 hectares
of land devoted to shrimp farming in 1997 but half that area is now being used for
other activities while the remaining land - still nominally shrimp farm - is mostly
Alternative forms of aquaculture such as mussel farming accounts for only about 20
Sao Sin Thon, said that there used to be many shrimp farms a few years ago but everything
is quiet now - many of the farmers having abandoned their farms and left the
"They used to be rich men but now most of them are turning into poor men,"