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EU Ban on Cambodian Fish Remains in Place

Cambodian workers collect fish which will be made into a traditional pickled fish, locally known as Prahok, at the river bank of the Tonle Sap in Chrang Chamreh during the fish harvesting season, in Phnom Penh, file photo.

More than one year after its fish products were banned from Europe, the industry and government has done little to ensure it will be lifted.

The ban, instituted in early 2013, has hurt potential fish exports to a potentially lucrative trade partner.

But EU officials say Cambodia fails to comply with international laws and standards for fishing, while at the same time offering its flag to non-Cambodian ships—so called flags of convenience—which often end up in the hands of criminals or smugglers.

“The EU has identified several failures of Cambodia to implement and comply with international law obligations, linked in particular to the adoption of an adequate legal framework, lack of an adequate and efficiently monitoring, control and inspection scheme, lack of a deterrent sanctioning system, and a proper implementation of the catch certification scheme,” Jean-François Cautain, ambassador of the European Union in Cambodia, said in an e-mail to VOA Khmer.

Cambodia has not exported fish to Europe since 2009, the loss of a market that imported $3.7 million in goods from Cambodia in 2013 and that could be worth up to $100 million a year.

But the industry lacks industrial standards, meaning it can’t live up to its potential to be a major exporter—up to 1 million tons of catfish and talapia per year, according to the World Bank.

Still, China, Japan, Russia and some Asean countries are a major market for Cambodian prawn, crab, lobster and other goods, Nao Thouk, director-general of the Fisheries Administration.

Such exports were worth about $3.5 million, or 1,600 tons, in 2012, according to government figures. But that’s a smart portion of the 720,000 tons of fish raised or caught in Cambodia last year.

Nao Thouk said it was not true Cambodia was not cooperating with the international community to combat illegal fishing. “In fact, we haven’t done it because we have a very limited ability to effectively track ships,” he said. The government is working to do better, he said.

Experts say the EU fish ban not only hurts Cambodia economically, but also hurts its international reputation.

“It implies that there’s something wrong,” said Kem Ley, an independent analyst. “Or that Cambodia doesn’t comply to the standards of EU. Maybe it shows there are a lot of crimes in the country, related to fishing.”