Facing what has been a dismal season for fishermen so far, prahok makers said this week that a low fish catch could lead to a smaller production of the country’s much-loved fermented fish paste and threaten their livelihoods.
Fishing season usually starts in early December, but so far the fish catch, and the fish available for prahok makers to buy, has fallen short of expectations.
“In previous years, I would have made some prahok by now, but I can’t,” said 46-year-old Sob Savy, a prahok maker with 20 years experience in Russei Keo district.
“There are probably less fish,” she said.
Some fishermen on the Tonle Sap said this week that fish catches are 50 percent below catches in December 2007.
Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun said by telephone Wednesday that this year’s fish harvest has started slowly, but prahok makers need not worry. The Agriculture Ministry still predicts a 15 percent increase in the fish harvest compared to last year, he said.
“If the weather is good, there will be a good catch in early January,” he said, adding that when water levels decrease fishing will improve.
“[Fishermen] may have caught a small number of fish so far, but that does not mean there are less fish,” Chan Sarun said.
The concerns over the fish catch come at the same time as a commitment from the Phnom Penh Municipality to loan $162,000 to prahok makers in Russei Keo district to help them buy fish.
The municipality intends for this latest loan to keep the prahok industry alive in Russei Keo district, Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said Tuesday morning at a ceremony in Chraing Chamreh II commune announcing the loans. The amount exceeds all previous annual loans to prahok makers over the last 10 years.
The municipality’s first loan to Russei Keo district prahok producers amounted to more than $34,000 in 1999 and last year hit nearly $140,000, he said.
“The villagers will have a better standard of living from their business because of this loan,” he said. “We decided to increase the funds because villagers want to increase their business.”
Srey Sideth, president of Chraing Chamreh commune’s community 10, said that the prahok industry has suffered difficulties in the past and prahok makers need the loans to buy fish to make prahok, whether or not the fish harvest meets expectations.
He said he does not worry about a late catch because the rainy season ran late this year.
“I think in early January there will be a good fish catch to make prahok,” he said.