A trial export of 20 tonnes of “pra” fish to China originally scheduled for this month has been postponed until “between end-July and early August”, with the only authorised exporter reporting a lack of the necessary facilities and moving equipment, as the involved authorities and farms anxiously await further updates, according to a senior official at the agriculture ministry’s Fisheries Administration (FiA).
“Pra” in the Khmer language quintessentially refers to Pangasius djambal, but could more broadly describe many – but not all – shark catfish of the Pangasius (P) genus (“po” types such as P larnaudii and P sanitwongsei being notable counterexamples) or other genera in the Pangasiidae family such as Helicophagus and Pangasianodon, but not Pseudolais.
Chhuon Chamnan, director of the FiA’s Department of Fisheries Post-Harvest Technologies and Quality Control (DFPTQ), affirmed to The Post on June 20 that the trial shipment would be exclusively Pangasianodon hypophthalmus – one of Cambodia’s most farmed shark catfish varieties, known locally as “pra thom” – and that authorisation for other species would still be required.
Chamnan said that Hun Ty Co Ltd affiliate AGA Zeeland, which owns a fish processing plant for export, has yet to report an exact date for the trial, despite a meeting last month determining that it would go ahead by mid-June.
“The main thing we want to emphasise is that the export of ‘pra’ fish to China has not been cancelled, merely a little bit delayed, the exporters are just not ready yet. We will keep in touch with the company to resolve the issue.
“Regardless, the Chinese side is ready to accept the ‘pra’ fish once we export it,” he said, adding that the Cambodian embassy in Beijing and FiA plan to hold a ceremony to commemorate the pilot export.
Chamnan added that the FiA is working with Kim Chou Co Ltd Import Export and International Transportation – a firm he noted has experience exporting to Chinese shores – to obtain the rights to ship “pra” fish to China as well.
“Most local companies are not interested in exporting ‘pra’ fish to China because the Chinese customs administration’s procedures are very strict. Thus, with a local firm interested in this, we [the FiA], will do our best to get this company the rights to export ‘pra’ fish to China,” he said.
“With more exporters, we could also export ‘pra’ fish in larger quantities.”
Um Chan Chamnan is the administrative director of the Yon Sovannarith Pra Fish Farm, which is located in northern Phnom Penh’s Prek Pnov district and is authorised to raise and supply the shark catfish for export to China.
He said his and two other farms were also awaiting final confirmation from AGA Zeeland on the price it would pay for their “pra” fish, to export to China, following negotiations where the company declined a 5,500 riel ($1.38) per kilogramme offer.
But even if the firm does not respond, “my farm is not worried because we already have a local market available, although we may get low prices, … [and] can supply from 1,000-2,000 tonnes per year”.
Still, he said, with prices of transport and all kinds of goods trending up, the farm would fancy selling its products at reasonable prices to cover operation costs and gain some profit.