The Cambodian Aquaculturist Association (CAA) reports a resurgence in domestic market values for local fish species, following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

These include the “pra” and “po” varieties of shark catfishes, the “chdo” or giant snakehead, among others.

However, concerns remain regarding the suspension of some aquaculturists’ activities in light of ongoing challenges in the production line.

Lem Phorvarith, a spokesman and development officer for the association, revealed on July 23 that local fish markets are recovering, having been hit hard during the pandemic.

Indeed, market growth for the pra, po, and chdo fish has been observed in comparison to the Covid-19 period.

Nonetheless, despite improving market prices, Phorvarith expressed concern over the future of Cambodia’s aquaculture sector, which may see further declines. He noted that some local fish farmers have ceased operations due to issues with the production line.

“During the pandemic, Cambodia’s aquaculture sector was severely volatile, prompting some farmers to suspend and abandon fish farming due to challenges in the production chain, especially related to rising fish feed prices as fish prices fell,” he said.

“At present, the aquaculture sector in Cambodia overall doesn’t appear to be showing positive signs yet, despite the fact that the prices of certain local fish, like pra, po, and chdo, seem to be performing better in the market compared to the period during the Covid-19 outbreak,” he cautioned.

Prices for specific fish varieties, such as the iridescent shark catfish and the black ear catfish, have increased. The former now sells for between 5,000 to 5,500 riel ($1.25 to $1.40) per kg, compared to its previous price of 4,000 riel per kg. The latter has gone up from 6,000 riel to between 7,500 and 8,000 riel per kg. Most notably, the price of the giant snakehead has risen from 10,000 riel to 12,000 riel per kg.

“The rising prices for some fish are due to farmers ceasing operations, which in turn drives up demand for local fish. The decline in breeding previously can be attributed to the high cost of raising fish, particularly with the high price of fish feed. Combined with a saturated market and low prices for fish, this has resulted in diminished profits for farmers, which can result in capital losses,” he elaborated.

Moreover, he voiced concerns over the potential future shortage of fish supplies in Cambodia due to the decline of the aquaculture sector. With only about 40 per cent of fish farmers remaining, and the farmed fish harvest season starting in November, domestic fish supplies for this year and subsequent years may fall short.

Yun Sovannarith, a fish farm owner in Phnom Penh’s Prek Pnov district, concurred, saying that small-scale and new fish farmers have quit the business due to past crises. Currently, only experienced aquaculturists remain.

“When the small farmers ceased their fish farming operations, we noticed an increase in fish prices. This was particularly evident with fish imported from neighbouring countries, which saw prices rise before ours due to the increased costs of their products, such as feed. Here in our country, the prices of the black ear catfish and iridescent shark catfish began to recover after production dropped by 50 per cent,” Sovannarith said.

Meanwhile, the CAA is in talks with a major Chinese firm to explore opportunities for exporting Cambodian aquaculture products to China. The primary exports under consideration are eels, crabs, snails and crayfish. However, notable progress is yet to be made as the Chinese partners demand specific standards and quality that need to be met.