Chhun Leng, 50, a lobster vendor in Olympic Market for 16 years, is surprised by the price of the lobsters this year.
“It is cheaper [by half] than previous years,” she said.
Last year, one kg of lobster cost 40,000 riel to 45,000 riel (about $10 to $11.40). But this year, it fetches only 18,000 riel to 23,000 riel (about $4.60 to $5.80), Chhun Leng said.
This year’s flooding might have enabled fish and lobster to proliferate, since lakes didn’t dry up, she said.
The abundance of lobsters has benefited fishermen, wholesalers and vendors alike, since it makes the crustaceans affordable to more people.
Chhun Leng said the average price of lobster is now about 20,000 riel ($5) per kg. She sells 100 to 200 kg per day.
In Chhun Leng’s native Takeo province, fishermen sell lobster to wholesalers for 15,000 riel to 18,000 riel (about $3.80 to $4.50) per kg. She estimated that 500 to 600 kg of Takeo lobsters are sold in various Phnom Penh markets each day.
In Prey Veng province, the market has been flooded with cheap lobster since the lobster season began in early November, but even before that the price was lower than usual, said Thong Dara, a 21-year-old seafood vendor in Neak Leung Market. Lobster in Prey Veng comes from the Slot lake and Mekong tributaries.
She said lobster sells there for 30,000 riel ($7.60) a kg now, down from $13 to $15 per kg last year.
Nao Thouk, director of the fishery department for the Ministry of Agriculture, said two factors have caused this year’s lobster boom. First, a government directive early this year opened water lots in Takeo and Prey Veng to public fishing. Previously those rights had been privately held.
The owners of the rights in the past mostly exported the lobster they caught, rather than putting it on the domestic market, Nao Thouk said. Now that the water lots are open to everyone, only 5-10 tons of lobster have been exported, versus an estimated 100 tons in previous years.
The second factor is the flooding, which caused the Mekong to overflow into the sea, giving the lobsters more places to breed, Nao Thouk said. Once the eggs hatch, baby lobsters return to the Cambodian lakes and rivers to grow.