As Cambodia’s population grows, so does the need for sustainable fish production and as yields from the wild decrease, the European Union is pushing for more sustainable aquaculture, a sector that is just emerging in the Kingdom.
The EU-funded Freshwater Aquaculture Research and Development Centre in Prey Veng province, roughly 70 kilometers from the capital, is leading the charge.
Spread over the swathe of 16 hectares of land, the centre has 69 fish ponds, three cemented reservoirs for raising frogs as well as prawns, and administrative and residential buildings to house 20 permanent staff and also visiting researchers and students.
“Before we only had a small population to feed, but now it has grown to 16 million people and natural fish resources are dwindling,” Srung Limsong, deputy director-general of the Fisheries Administration, said during a recent visit to the centre by an EU delegation.
Meng Sothai, chief of the centre, said it was initially set up to research fish breeding, but its operations were obstructed during the civil war.
“The centre was constructed in 1990 and was a revolutionary concept at the time,” he said. “Back then, it was well known among foreign interns who came to learn from us here, but everything was changed due to the war and it was downgraded to what it is today.”
“However, in recent years it is now being redeveloped with financial support from the government as well as funding from the European Union,” he added.
Mr Sothai noted that the centre has bred eight million different types of fish this year and is working on breeding six types of disease-resistant fish such as sandai, catfish, and giant snakeheads which fetch high prices in the market.
He added that the bred fish will be sold, distributed to farmers or released into the natural waters during special events nationwide.
Mr Sothai said that this year the centre distributed two million fish to 1,500 families, an increase from one million fish to 500 families last year.
The Fisheries Administration is also strengthening the centre’s research capacity and organising training sessions on effective fish-raising techniques and promoting sustainable fisheries management. Since 2016, 2,642 people have been trained.
“The centre is also a training ground for civil servants, farmers and foreign interns to research into fish breeding techniques to raise people’s incomes and the construction of breeding infrastructures, including ponds and reservoirs,” Mr Limsong noted.
The project aims to address many issues. When dealing with aquaculture, one of the main challenges is the lack of technical skills among farmers, public servants and even the younger generation, such as university students studying the field.
“Funding to the fishery sector is very large. So far, the EU has helped with 20 million euros and six million euro comes from the government for agricultural production as well as fisheries,” Mr Limsong said. “The whole fishery sector received about seven million out of the 20 million euros and three million out of the six million euros, which works out to about 10 million euros, from 2013 until October 31, 2018.”
He noted that the annual catch from natural water bodies for the market was about 500,000 tonnes of fish in 2017 and reared fish was about 200,000 tonnes, adding that whenever there is a shortfall in supply a small amount will be imported from neighbouring countries.
Huy Mom, 39, a resident of Bati commune where the centre is located, praised how she was trained to rear fish she got from the centre.
“We were trained on how to look after the health condition of the fish,” she said. “Previously, we did not know if the fish were sick or why they died.”
“I incurred big losses and later I bought the fish from the centre to raise at my own pond and was taught how to look after them,” she added.