Aquaculture In Cambodia – A Full Guide

Introduction: Aquaculture in Cambodia plays an important role in food security and livelihoods throughout the country. Cambodia people are among the highest consumers of freshwater fish in the world, with annual per capita fish consumption estimated at 52.4 kg. More than 80% of the total animal protein in the Cambodian diet is estimated to come from fish and other kinds of aquatic animals, most of which come from inland water bodies. Aquaculture in Cambodia is practiced in both freshwater and marine environment conditions and occurs at multiple scales, from small-scale, subsistence production to large-scale, commercial production. In Cambodia, more than half of total production is freshwater cage culture, which dominates the sector. Though, smallholder high-input pond aquaculture represents only about 18% of total production.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Aquaculture in Cambodia

Freshwater Fish
Fiah Farm (Image credit: pixabay)

Aquaculture in Cambodia is one of the fastest-growing food production sectors but it currently contributes only about 10% of the country’s total fish production. Generally, fish is the main source of animal protein in the Cambodian diet. In the past, the fish and fisheries products demand in Cambodia was largely met from freshwater capture fisheries. Though, in recent decades, growing demand for affordable fish from both rural areas and fast-developing urban centers has resulted in increased fishing pressure, which poses the main threat to the sustainability of Cambodia’s capture fisheries. Aquaculture development is thus vital to both meet the growing demand for fish and manage the country’s fisheries resources sustainably.

Generally, Cambodia has a rich biodiversity of freshwater and marine resources. Fish consumption 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 a main role in household livelihoods. Fisheries in Cambodia constitute an integral part of rural livelihoods. Fish provides more than 75 % of the total animal protein intake in people’s diets and provides approximately more than 1.5 million full-time jobs and involves at least 6 million people in fishing activities.

The National Strategic Plan for Aquaculture Development in Cambodia (NSPAD) outlines key priorities and future investment requirements in the aquaculture system. Limited availability of quality inputs and services is a major constraint to the aquaculture sector development. Fingerling production is insufficient and the quality of fingerlings produced too low to support the industry. Then, this has resulted in imports of poor-quality seeds from neighboring countries.

Freshwater Aquaculture in Cambodia

In Cambodia, fish is the 2nd most consumed food after rice, accounting for 66.3% of households’ animal protein intake. Freshwater fisheries are an integral part of the country’s culture, economy, and food security, and are the main source of food for rural people. Overall, the fisheries sector employs about 2 million people, of which 10,000 people work in the marine fishery sector.

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Freshwater Fish
Image credit: pixabay

The aquaculture system holds considerable potential to improve nutrition and supplement household incomes through the sale of the surplus catch. Therefore, the adoption of aquaculture production and improved resource management has the potential to contribute to poverty alleviation if it provides poor households with opportunities to diversify production systems and reduce food insecurity. Aquaculture is mainly dependent on numerous ecosystem services, including water provisioning and nutrient cycling. Successful development of a small-scale aquaculture system would require significant market improvements in areas where aquaculture can support sustainable livelihoods.

In Cambodia, freshwater aquaculture accounts for approximately 90% of national aquaculture production. It is dominated by snakehead, which accounts for about 40,000 metric tons per year. More than 69% of the production is concentrated within seven of the country’s 25 provinces, with Kandal, Kampong Thom, and Phnom Penh provinces reporting 22,000 to 25,000 metric tons of aquaculture production per year. Production occurs in both ponds and cages.

In recent years, Tilapia culture spread within the country as a result of increasing demand for both Nile tilapia and red tilapia. Although Cambodians prefer wild-caught fish, tilapia is now widely accepted. The tilapia sector is dependent on fingerlings of unknown sources and quality imported from neighboring countries, and production practices are poor. The assessment revealed numerous constraints to the sustainable development of the tilapia sector along with all segments of the value chain, from seed production to fish marketing.

Usually, pond and cage management is also suboptimal. For example, farmers feed their fish farm waste and byproducts or trash fish mixed with rice bran rather than quality feed pellets. In addition to suboptimal feeding practices, pond management is often poor, with no management and monitoring of water quality, no use of fertilizer, and no records of inputs used. The reason for this poor management is the farmers’ limited knowledge of the aquaculture system and the absence of effective private and public support systems to provide guidance and training to farmers. Access to high-quality feed and also other inputs is limited. Recently, the more high-quality feed has become available on the market and there is increased competition between feed producers.

However, the cost of feed remains a major constraint to farmers. Cambodians classify their freshwater fish species as ‘Black’ or ‘White’. ‘Black fish’ are those species able to survive in wetland regions, year-round and have limited lateral migrations. Mostly, they are carnivorous or detritus feeders with quite a number of them being air breathers. They include Channidae (Snakeheads), Clariidae, Bagridae, and Anabantidae. Mainly, ‘White fish’ are riverine species that show strong lateral and longitudinal migrations. This group species includes many cyprinids, various Pangasius sp., Siluridae and Cirrhinus.

Fishing in Cambodia

Fishing in Cambodia offers the two biggest freshwater fish species are Giant Mekong Catfish and Giant Freshwater Stingray. Because of Cambodia’s several lakes, rivers, and waterways, you can fish almost anywhere. Fishing in Cambodia’s done in mainly 2 cities. They are Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. A little further down the river and see the Tonle Sap River splitting into 4 parts. The main four parts are the Tonle Sap, Upper Mekong, Lower Mekong, and the Bassac River. This confluence of rivers is a great fishing location as several species compete for prey in this ecologically rich water. These rivers are abundant in stock and species, and it is recommended that all fish are caught on barbless hooks and then returned to the water as quickly and with as little stress as possible to keep this diverse ecosystem.

Usually, the best fishing around Siem Reap is in Southeast Asia’s biggest freshwater lake, Tonle Sap. Of course, Siem Reap is now world-famous for its several incredible temples, attracting visitors from all around the world. The livelihoods of the families who live on the lake depend on fishing as they sell and eat. Most people live on floating houses and their livelihoods depend on the 500,000 tons of fish is caught from the Tonle Sap lake every year. Some of the important fish species you will catch are Red tail Catfish, Asian Catfish, Croaker, Mekong Spot Catfish, and Tinfoil Barb, Slender Carp, and Transverse-bar barb. Fisher people and their families live on the water and their livelihoods depend on fishing.

Despite being one of the fastest-growing food production sectors in Cambodia, currently, aquaculture contributes only about 10% of the country’s total fish production. The potential for aquaculture to improve nutrition and augment family incomes through the sale of the surplus is increasingly recognized.

Fish Species in Cambodia

Freshwater aquaculture system is more developed than marine aquaculture. Cultured fishes include both indigenous and exotic species. The major cultured species are Pangasius spp. (73%) followed by giant snakehead (21%). Other species produced include Puntius sp., Philippine catfish, marble goby, Cirrhinus sp., red-tailed tinfoil, and Hoven’s carp. Hoven’s carp is caught during times of abundance and then stocked and fattened for a few months before being sold at a better price.

The giant snakehead or giant mudfish

It is among the largest species in the family Channidae, capable of growing to 1.5 m in length and a weight of 20 kg. The species can crawl onto land, although they can do this in muddy or swampy areas, hence the nickname called “mudfish”.

The black snakehead (Channa melasoma)

It reaches a length of 30 cm. It inhabits large to medium rivers that have acidic water and submerged roots. The Black Snakehead feeds on small and has long, slender bodies with long dorsal and butt-centric balances. The fish species have an extensive mouth and distending jaw with canine-like teeth.

The forest snakehead (Channa Lucius)

This fish found in slow-moving water with plenty of vegetation cover and grows up to about 40 cm long. Juveniles are pale and have 3 lateral stripes from head to tail. It is common to fish and also popular as food.

Channa marulius (bullseye snakehead or great snakehead)

It is a large species of snakehead. It is a very fast-growing and aggressive fish. Bullseye snakeheads can reach almost 2 meters in length and weigh up to about 30 kg.

The dwarf snakehead (Channa gachua)

It is native to freshwater habitats in southern Asia. This species can reach about 28 cm in total length, but most are much smaller. It feeds on small fish, insects, and crustaceans.

The striped snakehead

It is another species of snakehead. A common site at wet fish markets often sold alive and also served up grilled as street food. This can grow up to a meter long but rarely gets the chance due to being a popular meal.


It is a commonly eaten catfish found in rivers from coastal areas up to the Laos border. They grow up to around 30 cm; they are sold fresh in fish markets.  It is one of the largest freshwater fish in the world; it is endemic to the Mekong Basin.

Olive flathead-gudgeon

It is a mangrove fish growing up to 14 cm, they can be found around coastal brackish waters, creeks, and streams and occasionally further up rivers. IIt is a slightly larger species is the strangely named crazy fish.

Puffer Fish

Another throwback to days of the sea is Cambodian freshwater pufferfish.

Aquaculture Farming Systems in Cambodia

Cambodia contains many water resources like 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 systems. Then, the activity of freshwater aquaculture includes culture in cages, ponds, and pens. Fish culture areas have spread throughout the country, including the upland areas recently. Freshwater pond culture covers a total area of 1,350 hectares of earthen ponds, comprised of 39,955 ponds. Also, floating net-cage culture is important and covers 12 ha, comprised of 4,224 cages. These cages are used primarily for snakehead, giant snakehead, silver barb, Pangasius spp. and Mystus spp.

The aquaculture system is growing quite rapidly, and takes many different forms – from very extensive enhanced rice field fisheries to intensive Pangasius, snakehead, and hybrid catfish culture. The government has set a 20% growth rate target for aquaculture, and there is an important potential for a wide range of sustainable aquaculture activities at different scales in marine and freshwater environments. At present 90% of aquaculture is from freshwater systems.

In Aquaculture, pond and cage culture of higher value fish using lower value fish as feed has been undertaken for centuries and has served both as a storage mechanism that means utilization of seasonally abundant fish and as a means of “adding value” to a cheap and abundant resource. Low-value “trash” fish from freshwater and marine resources continue to be used as important feed input to the rapidly growing aquaculture sector.

Coastal Aquaculture

Cambodia’s coastal zone, located on the southwest edge of the country, extends for about 435 km and includes 85,100 hectares of mangrove forests in three provinces like Koh Kong, Sihanouk Ville, and Kompot. In Cambodia, the continued development of marine aquaculture has high potential, especially the possibilities for shrimp, finfish, and crustacean farming in the coastal zone. The status of shrimp or fish farming was recently evaluated as being composed of mostly semi-intensive culture systems. Then, the major finfish species currently cultivated are groupers and Asian seabass; the major crustacean species is mud crab. They are reared in cages, ponds, and pens. The breakdown of marine aquaculture is 218 hectares of earthen ponds (10,232 pounds), 1 571 ha of pens (292 pens), and 14 ha of floating net-cages (1,898 cages).

Cage and Pen Culture

Cage fish culture in Southeast Asia evolved in Cambodia, possibly more than a century ago. Traditionally, cages were used to hold captured fish alive with supplementary feed until they were sold. Though, cage sizes in the lake vary from 48 to 540 m3 for Pangasius catfish culture with smaller units being used for snakehead (18m3 – 180 m3). Seed is caught from the wild. Average stocking densities vary between 5 and 25 kg of 80 to 150 g fingerlings/m3 for Pangasius and 6-40 kg of 50 to 250 g fingerlings/m3 for snakeheads. Feed is based on low commercial value fish (the only food given to snakeheads), cooked rice bran, corn, or aquatic plants based on the species. For Pangasius, the average yield is between 28 and 90 kg/m3 and for snakehead cage culture average yield is 75-150 kg/m3. Usually, cage operations are operated by 1 to 5 hired workers, according to the scale of the farm, when the owner and family members are not directly involved in technical operations.

Intensive pond culture

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Pond Fish Culture
Pond Fish Culture (Pic credit: pixabay)

Pond sizes in intensive pond culture systems may range from a few hundred square meters to 10,000 m2 (average 2,400 m2), with a depth of 2 to 3 meters, and permanent access to a water source. The catfish is the main cultured species in ponds around Phnom Penh. On average the stocking density is about 9 individuals/m2 and the culture period is 8-12 months. Yields change from less than 20 tonnes to 100 tonnes/ha (average 67 tonnes/ha) with a feed conversion ratio (FCR) of 4-5:1. Ponds are also mainly operated by hired workers.

Pond location selection

  • It must be flat land that ideally does not flood during the rainy season or at least where flooding is minimal
  • The soil must be capable of holding water for a long time;
  • It must be close to a water source (if any), the pond next to rice fields is better because it has useful living conditions for ordinary carp and Indian carp.
  • It should be isolated from areas where chemical poisons and other poisoned sources are used.
  • It should be a place that has enough sunlight for the water plant to photosynthesize.

Feed Inputs for Aquaculture in Cambodia

Usually, aquaculture ponds require feed and fertilizers to promote fish production. Fertilizer inputs, including both inorganic (DAP, urea) and organic fertilizers like pig, cow, and chicken manure, increase plankton blooms in the water for fish to eat. Feed requirement depends on the type of fish species raised they are carnivorous fish that eat other fish and animals (e.g. snakehead), omnivorous fish that eat a different variety of animals and plants (Pangasius catfish, common carp, and tilapia), herbivorous fish that eat plants (silver carp, silver barb or grass carp).

The Cambodia National Aquaculture Development Strategy mainly indicates that on-farm feeds are of mixed quality, with formulations often sub-optimal and storage protocols inadequate. Also, imported pellets are sometimes of poor quality or inadequately labelled. Feeding strategies may also be wasteful. Poor feed or feeding practices generate much higher levels of waste, and this, in turn, may cause water quality problems. Therefore, a wide range of actions can be taken to increase the efficiency of feed use. These include;

  • Better quality control of imported feeds.
  • Research on improved feed formulations, storage, and handling appropriate to different fish and aquatic species.
  • Extension relating to the costs and benefits of different feed types and feeding strategies.
  • Establishment of an aquaculture feed mill.
  • Identify more “feed efficient” fish with good market potential.

Fish feed is produced from a combination of soybeans, corn, rice, and other grains. Feed and, to a lesser extent, seed are also the two major inputs for fish farming. Two types of feed are used in aquaculture are homemade feed and pelleted commercial feed. Particularly, there is no commercial feed production in Cambodia, although at least one company is considering it. Almost all commercial feed is imported from Vietnam. Low-value fish from capture sources and seafood processing waste are used as protein inputs into homemade feed. For seed, there are three main sources they are local hatcheries (mainly carps, tilapias, and barbs), imported from Vietnam (mainly pangasius, snakehead, and clarias species), and wild. Significant numbers of snakehead fingerlings are imported informally.

Fisheries Post-Harvest Processing in Cambodia

Cambodia has a century’s old tradition of processing freshwater fish and some products include fish paste, fermented fish, dry salted fish, smoked fish, fish sauce, and dried fish for animal feed. These fish products are for the domestic market. For the domestic market, the important fish for processing are Cirrhinus species, which are caught in huge amounts during the annual migration from the Tonle Sap Lake. Processed marine commodities are shrimp, lobster, crab, squid, octopus, cuttlefish, much of which is dried.

The main challenges faced by the fish processors are poor quality of raw materials, lack of access to funds, and lack of resources to find international markets. Also, the lack of good quality infrastructure is making the products less competitive in the international markets.

Market and Trade of Aquaculture Production in Cambodia

Aquaculture production in Cambodia has served both internal and external market demands, but predominantly to domestic demand. Fish and other aquaculture products are the most important protein source for the bulk of the population, particularly the rural poor. Also, 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 like shrimp, Asian seabass, grouper, oysters, and green mussels by Cambodians is primarily confined to maritime areas.

The important aquaculture production domestically marketed and distributed are freshwater finfish and their traditional processed products. Even so, only 20 to 40% of the total small-scale freshwater aquaculture production (tilapia, common carp, Chinese carps, Indian carps, and silver barbs) was locally sold on the farm gate.

Thailand, and to a lesser extent Vietnam, are now the primary export destinations for fisheries or aquaculture products. High-value species like snakeheads, clariid catfishes, pangasids, and marble goby are usually sold to traders for marketing in Phnom Penh or export. Also, small volumes are marketed in several other countries such as France, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, and the United States of America. Also, the production of cultured snakeheads, sand gobies from both cage/pen and pond culture was exported to Thailand and Viet Nam, and occasionally to Singapore, the Republic of Korea, Japan, and Malaysia.

Promotion and Management of the Aquaculture Sector in Cambodia

The agency of the Royal Government of Cambodia responsible for the management of fisheries resources is the Fisheries Administration (FiA), under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. The structure of the Fisheries Administration is composed of seven Departments, two Institute Fisheries Research Centers. At the provincial level the Fisheries Administration Cantonment, (FiAC) under the Fisheries Administration, is responsible for promoting, overseeing, and regulating the development of fisheries in each province.

The Fisheries Administration has the below responsibilities;

  • To prepare fishery resource inventories, assess potential and follow up the fishery resources and aquaculture development.
  • Enact laws, regulations, and orders for fishery protection 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 growth policies and measures to ensure environmental protection.
  • Conduct scientific research on aquaculture and document the findings.
  • Manage all activities of fishery resource exploitation.
  • Support and encourage any person who initiates research on fishery resource protection and promotes aquaculture.

National Fisheries Sector Policy in Cambodia, fisheries policies by the development of sustainable fisheries resources to contribute to ensuring people’s food security. To achieve this vision, the Royal Government of Cambodia has formulated the below policies;

Management and Development of Fisheries

  • Managing sustainable fisheries resources to enhance food security and safety and to contribute to poverty alleviation
  • Encouraging fishing activities in the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) and in the international fishing grounds by strictly implementing the Regional Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the laws of the Kingdom of Cambodia

Management of Community Fisheries and Family Fisheries

  • Encouraging the effective establishment of community fisheries in inland and coastal areas to enhance the management of sustainable fisheries resources by empowering local communities
  • Promoting sustainable livelihoods to fishermen in socioeconomic and nutritional terms

Management and Development of Fish Processing

  • Rising fish processing by encouraging large-scale investments and improving the fisheries infrastructure
  • Extension of indigenous species of aquaculture, especially of fish species with a high economic export value
  • Developing fish processing technologies by supporting small-scale investments to community fisheries and fishermen
  • Promoting economic cooperation by collecting fish marketing management information
  • Ensuring the quality of fishery products

Conservation of Fisheries Resources

  • Reviewing regulations for law enforcement and crackdown of all illegal fishing activities and preserving the inundated forest
  • Protecting the important natural habitats and biodiversity
  • Ensuring wide coordination with all relevant sectors to reduce the potential negative impact on fisheries resources as a result of developments

Budget and Fisheries Infrastructure

  • Promoting investment in the fisheries sector to increase the competitive market of the fisheries sector
  • Giving priority to using the fisheries revenue through special financial procedures to achieve fisheries reforms, development, and surveillance.


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