Cambodia Aquaculture Sector Overview

Cambodia has a rich biodiversity of freshwater and marine resources. The consumption of fish has increased owing to an increase in population, the effects of climate change and changing fishing technologies. In light of this growing demand for seafood, aquaculture and culture based fisheries have played an important role in household livelihoods. 

The primary source of fishery production is from the wild capture fisheries located in the Great Lake, the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Brassac rivers and their associated floodplains. The annual yield of all fisheries, including fish and other aquatic organisms, is estimated to be 745 065 tonnes (FiA, 2014). Aquaculture contributes around 120 055 tonnes of this total supply (FiA, 2014), and its relative contribution is increasing annually. 

Aquaculture in Cambodia is separated as freshwater and marine, and is subdivided as small-, medium- and large-scale. The primary techniques are cages, ponds and pens. Aquaculture production is still relatively low compared to capture fisheries, and the aquaculture practices are predominately small-scale. The Draft Aquaculture Development Strategy for Cambodia, as part of the Update of the Fisheries Strategic Plan for 2014¬2019, includes the development of medium- and large-scale aquaculture. 

Culture based fisheries is particularly important in the rural remote areas in the upland region of the country where non-native species have been introduced into small water bodies. Here, the community is able to provide fish, both for household consumption and income, using these introduced species.
History and general overview
Cage and pen culture, reportedly originating in Cambodia, is the major farming system of freshwater aquaculture production and its history dates back to the 10th century. As a result of the particularities of the hydrological cycle of the Mekong River and its natural buffer reservoir, the Great Lake, the freshwater fish catch has always been highly seasonal, especially for the large carnivorous fish such asChanna sp. and Pangasius sp. which are choice edibles of the affluent segment of the population. Pond culture was first introduced in the 1960s through pond culture of Chinese carps and tilapia that was attempted around Phnom Penh, the capital city, and in some plantation and garden ponds. 

Aquaculture in Cambodia had been reemphasized since 1984 after a long disruption starting in 1975. Owing to the abundance of wild fish in Cambodia, in the past aquaculture did not play an important role in the volume of fish supply. However, cage and pen fish culture was used in the Tonle Sap Great Lake region before 1950 on account of the readily available seed supply from the wild, especially ofPangasius catfish. Presently, cage and pen culture is becoming increasingly popular. Most of the farms are located in the Great Lake and Mekong/Bassac rivers (77 percent), while fewer are found in the other lakes (23 percent). Aquaculture development in Cambodia is now showing signs of more rapid growth, and is at a critical stage in its development. According to official government statistics, aquaculture production in Cambodia has grown from around 26 000 tonnes in 2005 to 120 055 tonnes in 2014. 

On the other hand, the Community Fish Refuges (CFR) is a method that was established in 1994 whereby broodstock are protected for the following breeding season through the use of communal ponds, either natural, artificial or in rice-paddies, during the dry season. The number of CFRs is increasing annually, from 29 in 2005 to 802 in 2014. Through the CFRs the production of fish in the rice fields has also increased. However, within the culture based fisheries organized by Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA) since 2012, 16 Culture-Based Fisheries (CBFs) were installed throughout the country for the conservation of fish and freshwater prawn. Each zone hosts a fisheries administration officer that is responsible for the implementation of CBFs with the community. The CBF method is being used to encourage people to understand the communal value of public water bodies, and how they benefit their food consumption and small-income generating activities during harvest season.
Human resources
The total number of officers in 2014 in the Fisheries Administration was 1 039 people (171 women). Of these, there were 345 people (92 women) working at the central level and 694 people (79 women) working at provincial and municipal level. The provision of on-the-job training, certification, diplomas, and undergraduate and post-graduate education represents a substantial investment in human resources:
  • PhD degree 10
  • Master degree 179
  • Bachelors (Fisheries) 336
  • Bachelors (Others) 51
  • Diploma (Fisheries) 156
  • Diploma (Others) 29
  • Certificate (Fisheries) 61
  • Certificate (Others) 18
  • On-the-job training (OT) 199
It is therefore critical to ensure that education programmes are tailored to national (public and private) aquaculture/fisheries needs and that over-investment in total, or in particular areas, does not occur. Human resource requirements for the aquaculture/fisheries sector therefore need to be regularly assessed and reviewed, and matched against the output of the education system. 

Both short-term and long-term training is required by the aquaculture/fisheries administration. It is preferable that training be conducted within the country in order to reach a larger target group and address the specific locality. However, overseas training particularly for more specialized skills development is likely necessary. Organizational management training should be undertaken for supervisory staff.
Farming systems distribution and characteristics
Freshwater Aquaculture

Cambodia contains many water resources, such as the Great Lake Tonle Sap, the Mekong River, the Tonle Sap River, the Bassac River and many of their tributaries. A number of these lakes are potential sites for aquaculture. The activity of freshwater aquaculture includes culture in cages, ponds and pens. Most of the culture activities are located in areas which have abundant water resources or which are irrigated. Recently, fish culture areas have spread throughout the country, including the upland areas. Freshwater pond culture covers a total area of 1 350 ha of earthen ponds, comprised of 39 955 ponds. Floating net-cage culture is also important and covers 12 ha, comprised of 4 224 cages (FiA, 2014). These cages are used primarily for snake head (Channa striatus), giant snake head (Channa micropeltes), silver barb (Barbonymus gonionotus), Pangasius spp. and Mystus spp. 

Coastal aquaculture

Cambodia’s coastal zone, located on the south-west edge of the country, extends for 435 km, and includes 85 100 ha of mangrove forests in three provinces: Koh Kong, Sihanouk Ville and Kompot (Landsat, 1994). The continued development of marine aquaculture in Cambodia has high potential, especially the possibilities for shrimp, finfish and crustacean farming in the coastal zone. The status of shrimp/fish farming was recently evaluated as being composed of mostly semi-intensive culture systems. The major finfish species currently cultivated are groupers and Asian seabass; the major crustacean species is mud crab. They are usually reared in cages, ponds and pens. The breakdown of marine aquaculture is 218 ha of earthen ponds (10 232 ponds), 1 571 ha of pens (292 pens) and 14 ha of floating net-cages (1 898 cages) (FiA, 2014).
Cultured species
Freshwater aquaculture is more developed than marine aquaculture. Cultured fishes include both indigenous and exotic species. The major cultured species are Pangasius spp. (73 percent) followed by giant snake head (Channa micropeltes) (21 percent). Other species produced include Puntius sp., Philippine catfish (Clarias batrachus), marble goby (Oxyeleotris marmorata), Cirrhinus sp., red tailed tinfoil (Barbonymus altus) and Hoven's carp (Leptobarbus hoeveni). Hoven’s carp is often caught during times of abundance, and then stocked and fattened for a few months before being sold at a better price during lower fish catches. 

The table below shows the most common species and their respective culture method and seed source

Species name Farming system Source of seed Production volume
Striped catfish (Pangasius hypophthalmus) Floating cage, Pond hatchery, wild High
Basa fish (Pangasius bocourti) Floating cage wild High
Spot pangasius (Pangasius larnaudii) Floating cage wild Low
Trey pra ke (Pangasius conchophilus) Floating cage wild Low
Giant snake head (Channa micropeltes) Floating cage wild High
Snake head (Channa striatus) Floating cage wild High
Silver barb (Barbonymus gonionotus) Floating cage, Pond, Rice field hatchery, wild High
Hoven's carp (Leptobarbus hoeveni) Floating cage, Pond hatchery, wild Medium
Trey khya (Mystus wyckiode) Floating cage wild Low
Marble goby (Oxyeleotris marmorata) Floating cage, Pond wild Low
Snakeskin gourami (Trichogaster pectroralis) Pond, Rice field hatchery, wild Low
Red tailed tinfoil (Barbonymus altus) Pond, Rice field hatchery, wild Low
Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) Floating cage, Rice field, Pond hatchery Medium
Silver carp (Hypothalmichtys molitrix) Pond hatchery Medium
Common carp (Cyprinus carpio ) Rice field, Pond hatchery Medium
Bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis) Pond hatchery Low
Grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus) Pond hatchery Low
Mrigal (Cirrihinus mrigal) Pond, Rice field hatchery Low
Hybrid catfish Pond hatchery High
African catfish  Pond hatchery High
Practices/systems of culture
Some practices/systems of aquaculture in Cambodia are well developed and are already successfully operated, while others are still under development. A list of practices is as follows:
  • Freshwater fish culture in earthen ponds, concrete ponds or pens in wetland areas.
  • Freshwater fish culture in floating net-cages in lakes and other water bodies.
  • Freshwater fish culture in rice paddy fields.
  • Freshwater fish culture in tanks, especially in upland areas using limited water volume.
  • Community Fish Refuges (CFR) for establishing communal natural or artificial ponds in the dry season to protect broodstock and increase reproduction for stock enhancement.
  • Brackish water or marine shrimp culture in brackish water ponds.
  • Marine finfish culture in floating net-cages.
  • Marine finfish culture in ponds.
  • Mud crab culture in ponds.
  • The extensive culture system is practiced for small-scale fish culture in freshwater and practiced for bivalve molluscs in the coastal areas.
Sector performance
There are no reports of aquaculture practices in Cambodia before the 1950s, most likely because of the interrelated production techniques of freshwater capture fisheries and aquaculture. Even in 1959 Bardach did not consider Cambodian cage operations genuine aquaculture, owing to its dependence on stocking material captured from the wild (Bardach, 1959). However, in the 1964–69 period cage culture production was estimated at 4 000–6 000 tonnes/year (Tin, 1976) and at 3 000 tonnes/year in the 1970s (Ling, 1977). Some pond culture of the same catfish and murrel species that were grown in cages was also known but not quantified. The volume of farmed fish was only a small percentage of the total freshwater fish production, which was estimated at about 120 000 tonnes at that time. Aquaculture production stopped completely between 1975 and 1979, and started again in the early 1980s. 

From 1984 onward, statistical data collection on farmed fish production was collected independently from wild caught production. The figures demonstrate a dynamic development production that reached pre-war levels by 1989 and exceeded 14 100 tonnes by 1998. The annual growth rate was 51.7 percent per year between 1984 and 1998 (DOF, 1999). The share of aquaculture in the total fish production was only 2.5 percent in 1984; this ratio has increased to 5.8 percent in 1990 and to 11.6 percent in 1998. 

Aquaculture contributes around one-sixth of the country's total fish production of 745 065 tonnes. In 2014, aquaculture production was around 120 055 tonnes and valued approximately USD 240 million. Marine water aquaculture gives lower yields than freshwater aquaculture both in terms of volume and value. 

The graph below shows total aquaculture production in Cambodia according to FAO statistics:

Reported aquaculture production in Cambodia (from 1950)
(FAO Fishery Statistic)
Market and trade
Aquaculture production has served both internal and external market demands, but predominantly to domestic demand. Fish and aquaculture products are the most important protein source for the bulk of the population, particularly the rural poor. Moreover, Cambodians have a strong preference for freshwater fish over other forms of animal protein. The domestic market for marine products is small. Consumption of marine species (shrimp, Asian seabass, grouper, oysters and green mussels) by Cambodians is primarily confined to maritime areas. Despite the relative importance in the diet, many Cambodians are unaware of the nutritional value of fish. 
The most important aquaculture production domestically marketed and distributed are freshwater finfish and their traditional processed products. Even so, only 20–40 percent of the total small-scale freshwater aquaculture production (tilapia, common carp, Chinese carps, Indian carps, silver barbs) was locally sold on farm gate (So Nam et al., 1996a; Viseth H., 1996; Vibol O., 1995). 

Cambodia has a tradition of exporting freshwater fish, dating back to at least the 1930s. Thailand, and to a lesser extent Vietnam, are now the primary export destinations for fisheries/aquaculture products. High-value species such as snakeheads, clariid catfishes, pangasids and marble goby are usually sold to traders for marketing in Phnom Penh or for export. Small volumes are also marketed in a number of other countries such as France, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, People’s Republic of China, Malaysia, and United States of America. The production of cultured snakeheads, pangasid catfishes, clariid catfishes, sand gobies from both cage/pen and pond culture were mostly exported to Thailand and Viet Nam, and occasionally to Singapore, People’s Republic of China, Republic of Korea, Japan and Malaysia.
Contribution to the economy
The fisheries sector contributes about 12 percent to gross domestic product (GDP). Aquaculture is becoming economically more important as a way of increasing local fish production for food security. Aquaculture production is still very small compared to capture fisheries; it contributed in value approximately USD240 million to the fisheries sector. However, it has succeeded in producing high value species for the domestic and export markets. The aquaculture industry generates many other related businesses, including fish feed producers, chemical suppliers, storage, processing and marketing. Logistics are also important to ensure product freshness and timely distribution. Together, these ancillary services generate substantial indirect employment. 

In 2014 average fish consumption was 63 kg/capita/year. The freshwater aquaculture and capture fisheries play an important role in the food security of rural people, particularly in remote areas. In contrast, intensive freshwater aquaculture and brackish water aquaculture generally involves higher financial investment and a skilled labour force.
Promotion and management of the sector
The institutional framework
The agency of the Royal Government of Cambodia currently responsible for the management of fisheries resources is the Fisheries Administration (FiA), under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The structure of FiA is composed of seven Departments, two Institute Fisheries Research Centres. At the provincial level the Fisheries Administration Cantonment, (FiAC) under the FiA, is responsible for promoting, overseeing and regulating the development of fisheries in each province. 

The Fisheries Administration has the following responsibilities:
  • To prepare fishery resource inventories, assess potential and follow-up the development of fishery resources and aquaculture.
  • Enact laws, regulations and orders for fishery protection and improvement and the management of fishery resource exploitation and monitor their implementation.
  • Prepare plans for management of fishery zones, fishery conservation and set up fishery resource development policies and measures to ensure environmental protection.
  • Conduct scientific research on fishery and aquaculture and document the findings.
  • Inspect and manage all activities of fishery resource exploitation and aquaculture.
  • Support and encourage any person who initiates research on fishery resource protection and/or promotes aquaculture.
The governing regulations
The Council of State issued Cambodia’s fisheries legislation, Fiat-Law Management and Administration, on 9 March 1987. The legislation is based, to a large degree, on the legislation in force during the period leading up to 1970. Together with its two sub-laws (made by the Council of Ministers in 1988 and 1989) and regulations (made by proclamation or circular principally by the Ministry of Agriculture but also by the Ministry of Justice), the legislation is extensive and detailed. 

Cambodian fisheries are governed by the new Law on Fisheries and its regulations, issued on 21 May 2006. Its Fisheries Administration (FiA) is the principal government agency responsible for managing and developing fisheries and aquaculture. Its mandate and structure are set out in the Sub-decree. Freshwater fisheries and aquaculture regulations are issued by State authorities. The new Law on Fisheries is divided into 17 chapters and 109 articles covering definition, exploitation of freshwater fisheries, aquaculture and the processing of freshwater fishery products, exploitation of marine fisheries, aquaculture and the processing of marine products, competent authorities for solving fishery violation, penalties and the final order. 

Under the new Law on Fisheries, aquaculture regulations are specified Chapter 10, Aquaculture Management. Some articles are set for aquaculture activities in both freshwater and marine such as Article 53. The following freshwater aquaculture operations can be undertaken only with permission granted by the Fisheries Administration:
  1. Ponds with a total area larger than 5 000 square metres.
  2. Pens with a total area larger than 2 000 square metres.
  3. Cages with a total area larger than 15 square metres.
The above articles pertains to those with Cambodian citizenship; foreigners investing in fishing exploitation or aquaculture in Cambodia are governed by Chapter 7, The Management of Fisheries Exploitation, specifically Article 38. Fishing exploitation or aquaculture by foreigners must be under agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries after obtaining the approval from the Royal Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia. In the near future the amendment of the Law on Fisheries will add some new articles for approval from the assembly. 

For more information on aquaculture legislation in Cambodia please click on the following link: 
National Aquaculture Legislation Overview - Cambodia
Applied research, education and training
Applied aquaculture research is carried out by the National Research and Aquaculture Development Institute (NARDI) of the Fisheries Administration (FiA), Prek Leap Agriculture College, National Agriculture College Kampong Cham and the Royal University of Agriculture. The NARDI has two research Divisions. Most of the applied research undertaken is concentrated on breeding techniques, broodstock improvement, seed production, nutrition, fish diseases and production technologies in ponds, cages and rice paddy fields. 

Aquaculture is only taught in higher institutions at diploma and degree level. Training in aquaculture is currently under the purview of the Department of Aquaculture Development, FiA Cambodia. Basic and advanced training in all fields of aquaculture are conducted at the three training institutions of the FiA, providing training in brackish water, freshwater and marine aquaculture. To date, about 20 000 people have been trained in various fields of aquaculture.
Trends, issues and development
Aquaculture has been identified as a activity to ensure food security since the Strategic Planning Framework for Fisheries (SPFF 2010-2019). Aquaculture has also been identified as a potential sector to generate funds through export. Compared with other agricultural sectors such rice, rubber, fruits and vegetables, aquaculture is one of the most productive in terms of income per hectare per annum and return on investment. 

In order to create a road map for the development of the Cambodian aquaculture, the Government formulated the National Strategic Plan for Aquaculture Development in Cambodia (2014 – 2030) in the early 2014. The promotion of sustainable aquaculture development is one of the priorities, where the aim is to increase aquaculture production to 185 000 tonnes by 2019. However, owing in part to the growing population, environment change and construction of hydropower dams, the fish populations and biodiversity have declined. 

Mitigating these conflicting factors is important to support ongoing aquaculture development, and thus aquaculture is promoted through technical aquaculture training, dissemination and outreach to the people. 

However, aquaculture development and culture based fisheries in Cambodia continues to face the following major constraints:
  • Inadequate water supply in remote areas of the Mekong River system.
  • Natural hazards such as flooding and drought can disrupt activities for long periods of time and lead to failure of crops.
  • Lack of access to credit can prevent famers from accessing sufficient working capital to dig ponds, make expensive purchase such as seed during stocking periods, buy inputs for the whole crop cycle, and purchase vehicles for distribution. Micro credit programs have been provided to rural farmers by some Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and International organization (IOs) but with high interest rate (3 percent per month). However, a few NGOs/IOs provide loans to farmers without interest.
  • Lack of marketing and distribution channels.
  • Aquaculture cooperatives or producer organizations have not been organized yet which contributes to a weak bargaining status of individual fish farmers.
  • Lack of purchasing power on behalf of the majority of the population so that the significant surplus of expensive carnivorous/omnivorous fish species culture in cage/pen can be marketed domestically.
  • Inadequate technology, mainly concerning breeding and larval rearing of indigenous fish and also feeding, particularly for intensive culture in pond, cages or pen, has caused failure and loss.
  • Lack of fish feeds/feed ingredients for a significant expansion of traditional cage/pen culture of carnivorous/omnivorous fish species.
  • Frequent occurrence of Epizootic Ulcerative Syndrome (EUS).
  • The exchanges of information between related organizations are not adequate and there has been a lack of coordination efforts. Research institutions, universities, non-government and government agencies implementing extension services in aquaculture rarely coordinate with each other. As a result, interventions are independent and often attempt research, extension and training as a stand-alone project basis. Therefore, exchange of information should be improved through longer commitments of projects.
  • The capacity of community members of CBF are limited and requires further development of the management and technical fisheries aspects.
  • Lack of traditions in low-input ponds and rice-fish culture methods among the small farmers.
  • Lack of applied research capabilities for technology testing and adaptation for freshwater aquaculture.
  • Lack of efficient extension services, including equipment and extension materials.
  • Lack of local expertise with adequate professional training and experience.
  • Lack of up-to-date information and international contacts.