First Large-Scale Marine Fish Farm in Works

A proposal for the country’s first large-scale marine fish farm that would raise grouper, sea bass and other valuable dinner-table species has been sent to the Council of Development for Cambodia for approval, officials confirmed on Tuesday.

The council is expected to consult with Sihanoukville authorities on whether there would be effects on local fisheries or the marine environment before making a final decision, said Hav Viseth, director of the Agriculture Ministry’s department of aquaculture.

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Sea bass are displayed on ice. (Creative Commons)

Ing Try, director of the ministry’s fisheries department, said aquaculture was the solution to rising demand for food along the coast, especially as natural fish stocks declined.

“The coastline of Cambodia is only 435 km. It’s not big. The tourists are coming, and if the number keeps increasing, how can we have enough fish?” he asked.

“We need to supply locals and supply tourists,” Mr. Try said. “Most people want to eat seafood when they come to Cambodia…. Restaurants in this town, before, told me they’d go through 10 kg a day. Now some go through 3 tons.”

The $24 million proposal by Norwegian company Vitamar would create a coastal base and egg-hatching site in Preah Sihanouk province over the next eight years, and train some 200 locals in aquaculture and fish farming, according to local media reports earlier this year.

Vitamar declined to confirm its investment in the project, which was finalized on Monday, according to aquaculture development director Thay Somony. Vitamar CEO Bjorn Myrseth has started similar ventures in Vietnam, Chile, Scotland, Greece, Spain and Norway.

Mr. Try, the fisheries director, said at a coastal development conference late last month that developing commercial-scale aquaculture was an essential step toward accommodating rising fish demand from tourists, especially as the province was looking to attract up to 2 million visitors per year starting in 2020.

While Mr. Viseth said he was confident in Vitamar’s expertise and had no concerns about the environmental impacts of the project, previous experiments in fish farming suggest that Cambodia’s desire for certain valuable species may prove harmful to native fish stocks.

The U.K.-based Marine Conservation Society has rated farmed sea bass as second-to-last in its sustainability tiers, noting that the fish are carnivorous, eat more meat than they produce and that runoff from their feed pollutes ocean water.

Environment Minister Say Sam Al said approval might be a long time coming.

“We haven’t come to any decisions. We haven’t had a policy on marine aquaculture before,” he said, adding that it was time to change that.

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