PHNOM PENH (Cambodia Herald) - Local and international fisheries scientists and economists gathered Thursday for the inception of a major four-year research project to assess the value of freshwater capture fisheries in Cambodia.
The project aims to address the dramatic underestimation of the freshwater fish catch in Cambodia. The annual catch of up to 400,000 tonnes used to be valued at as little as $200 million, based on fish prices of about 2,000 riel a kilogram. Higher price estimates of up to 10,000 riel a kilogram would value the annual catch as high as $1,000 million.
Funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the $1.2 million project is being implemented by the WorldFish Center in Phnom Penh.
"More accurate valuations would allow freshwater fisheries resources to be better integrated into national plans and development strategies," said Chris Barlow, the Canberra-based manager of the ACIAR Fisheries Program.
Dr Barlow, a former coordinator of the Mekong River Commission Fisheries Program in Phnom Penh and Vientiane, said research addressing constraints in value chains was among ACIAR's priorities, especially in Cambodia.
"Cambodia itself is one of the ACIAR’s focus countries in the Mekong and it constitutes a particularly relevant case study for a valuation project since this is the country where fisheries contribute most to GDP and livelihoods," he said.
Alan Brooks, director of the regional office of the WorldFish Center in Phnom Penh, added: "Assessments of the value of capture fisheries remains a neglected issue, as the Mekong River Commission acknowledged as recently as 2010."
According to Mr Brooks, "in addition to important economic value, fisheries play an important role in terms of food security and employment. Our project will also quantify these different values.”
The project plans to conduct surveys of fish prices and the relative value of fish in the rural economy in three ecological areas -- the Tonle Sap in Pursat, the lowland floodplains in Takeo and the mainstream of the Mekong River in Stung Treng.
As well as improving national statistics about fisheries resources, the project is developing a coordinated fisheries monitoring network between four universities in the Lower Mekong Basin.
The main partners are the Cambodian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), under the Council of Ministers, and the Inland Fisheries Research and Development Institute (IFReDI), under the Fisheries Administration of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
Other partners are the Royal University of Phnom Penh, the National University of Laos, Ubon Ratchatani University in Thailand and Can Tho University in Vietnam.
The inception meeting for the project was co-chaired Thursday by Fisheries Administration Director-General Nao Thuok and CARDI Director Ouk Makara along with Dr Barlow and Mr Brooks.