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Prahok put to the quality test

A woman walks past dried fish and prahok
A woman walks past dried fish and prahok yesterday afternoon at Phnom Penh’s Phsar Kandal. Vireak Mai

Prahok put to the quality test

Cambodia will introduce a much-needed national quality standard for dried snakehead fish, frozen shrimp, and its fish paste, known as prahok, in a bid to improve consumer-safety requirements and boost exports of the products.

Kao Sochivy, deputy director general of Fisheries Departments, told the Post yesterday that the standard will be announced in mid-March, giving stakeholders 60 days to give feedback, before implementation of the rules are announced.

“The Fishery Department has already completed the standard. The [Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries] has submitted them to the Institute of Standards for Cambodia to set the right parameters. After that, there will be an inter-ministerial meeting to establish it as a national standard and help producers to adapt,” said Sochivy, who has been working on the standard since 2011.

“[The Asean Economic Community] is approaching. We feel the need to establish the standard for our local products, like prahok, first to be able to export and also to filter for the same products from other countries to flow into Cambodia,” she said, referring to applying the same standards to Cambodian imports of similar products.

“It will not be compulsory yet, but at one point, we will make it compulsory,” she said.

Cambodia is currently exporting semi-processed fish, and Sochivy said the hope is to encourage export of the final product and shift focus to aquaculture, the farming of fish under controlled conditions.

Hok Pring, a semi-processed prahok producer in Siem Reap province, said the move would raise the standard of the fish paste, but she questioned the potential of the market outside of Cambodia.

“Thai would not buy final products. They have their factories,” she said.

“Our producers have been exporting semi-processed fish to neighbouring countries, where they package it, put their label and sell it at a very high price,” Sochivy added.

Chhay Heang, a fish exporter in Kandal province, said he would expand his business to export dried fish if the standard helped the product become more competitive in the international market.

“It is hard for businesses to start exporting if the price of the dried fish is higher than what they [importing countries] already have in their domestic market. If we can sell it in our domestic market for 10,000 riel ($2.50), why should we bother exporting it for 9,000 riel?” he said.

Tong Heng, marketing manager at Ocean King Company, which exports seafood to Japan, said regulating marine fishing in Cambodian waters was a priority.

“Shrimp catches from the sea cannot supply the domestic market. The catch has decreased due to illegal cross-border fishing by Thai and Vietnamese fishermen. We need to put a stop to it,” he said.

Marine aquaculture, Heng added, requires heavy up-front investment and a lack of knowledge about these techniques was compounding the problem.

Om Savath, executive director of Fisheries Action Coalition Team, said ensuring public health and promoting exports was great, but the standards would mean little for the fishing sector, given that Cambodia imports fish from Vietnam to supply to the domestic market. “We export fishes from fresh water and import fishes from aquaculture,” he said.

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