With the Kingdom’s aquaculture community bitterly unprepared and ill-equipped to stay afloat in a sea of low-grade imports, something urgently needs to be done to encourage the local breeding of lucrative aquaculture fish species and production of fish feed, according to the Cambodian Aquaculturist Association (CAA).

This was the general idea of the CAA’s message at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ annual meeting on March 22, which was also attended by officials from the ministry’s Fisheries Administration (FiA) and private sector representatives. The association also brought up “eight key challenges” and “11 suggestions”.

Speaking to The Post on March 23, Thay Somony, director of the FiA’s Aquaculture Development Department, listed the eight key challenges as: the predominance of poor-quality juvenile fish without a clear source of origin; a lack of knowledge of fish-breeding techniques; and a limited level of overall aquaculture skills.

The remaining five covered: the large volumes of imported fish feed on the market; inefficient irrigation systems; limited quantities of domestic fish at lower-than-desired quality; poor management of imported live fish; and other market issues.

“The main challenge that we need to address immediately is boosting the production of offspring that have the potential for breeding and have high value on the market.

“The FiA, agriculture and economy ministries, development partners, and the banks all agree that these issues need to be addressed urgently, but it will take some time to prepare for the production of breeding fish as well as varieties that grow well and are disease resistant,” Somony said.

He said the task would require extensive research by his department and the Faculty of Fisheries at the Royal University of Agriculture’s Chamkar Doung campus, as well as other research centres and institutes.

But in the end, this “important duty” will curb the import of juvenile fish from neighbouring countries and turn local aquaculturists into more effective breeders, he added.

Another pressing issue is the limited local production of fish feed, which fuels imports, he pointed out. However, offering a silver lining, Somony suggested that the large number of importers vying for business in the Kingdom has also driven up the quality of feed for breeders.

CAA president Sok Raden told The Post that about “90 per cent” of the “general species” of juvenile fish used by aquaculturists are imported. Prices of fish feed are high and there is little in the way of proper quality control, he rued.

He said the association has urged the government to bring more juvenile fish to aquaculture players, especially of species with considerable market value, to reduce the import of low-quality fish from neighbouring countries.

“A lot of aquaculturists are on the brink of bankruptcy because breeding is on the decline. We ask the government to intervene on issues such as juvenile-fish production, the provision of techniques, reduction of live-fish imports, and wide installation of irrigation systems.

“The biggest crisis when it comes to the import of live fish is the lack of proper inspection, which affects consumers,” Raden said.

The agriculture ministry reported that in 2021, more than 324 million new fish hatched in Cambodia, surging by more than 89 million compared to 2020.