The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has licensed a company to export 200 tons of water snakes in 2004, a move that has conservationists concerned about the disappearance of endangered species.
Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun said last week that the export permit for nonpoisonous water snakes was legal as none of those species are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which Cambodia signed in 1997.
Suon Phalla, an official at Cambodia’s CITES secretariat, said he was unaware of the permit but confirmed that the snakes are not protected.
Chhim Sokountheary, manager of the Layimex Co Ltd, a local crocodile exporter, said Wednesday that she received the permit in May, allowing her to begin exports in the new year.
But so far her company has not received any orders from customers, she said.
Layimex plans to buy its water snakes from Battambang and Kompong Thom provinces, where fishermen catch them in their nets. Chhim Sokountheary said she expects to export them for restaurants in China.
“I think there are too many water snakes in our country,” she added.
Chhim Sokountheary said she feeds water snakes to her more than 1,000 crocodiles in Takhmau district, Kandal province, as they are less expensive than fish.
But Mak Sithirith, director for the Fisheries Action Coalition Team, said he was concerned that endangered snakes could find themselves trafficked under such a large export permit.
“I think other species of snakes could disappear,” he said.
Chan Sarun, however, said water snake exports will be carefully monitored.