Vi­ta­mar has aquatic am­bi­tions for Cam­bo­dia, where 70% of the pro­tein in­take is from fish.

Nor­we­gians plan to in­crease food se­cu­rity and raise ex­per­tise in fish farm­ing in Cam­bo­dia.

Norway-Asia Business Review - - Contents - HENRI VIIRALT

Nor­we­gian aqua­cul­ture firm, Vi­ta­mar AS, is on course to launch the very first marine fish farm in Cam­bo­dia, with a com­bined in­vest­ment of USD 24 mil­lion.

The aim is to build the foun­da­tions in de­vel­op­ing the aqua­cul­ture in Cam­bo­dia by rais­ing in­dus­try stan­dards through di­rect op­er­a­tions, in­crease qual­ity of prod­uct and pro­duc­tion, and to co­op­er­ate with the lo­cal gov­ern­ment to de­velop a world class frame­work for aqua­cul­ture in Cam­bo­dia, all the while re­main­ing en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spon­si­ble and sus­tain­able.

Helmed by Mr Bjørn Myrseth, who is widely recog­nised as a pioneer and one of the fore­most ex­perts in the field of global fish farm­ing, Vi­ta­mar has a long his­tory of de­vel­op­ing as­sets in Europe, North Amer­ica and Asian mar­kets since the 1970s.

“When we were de­vel­op­ing fish farm­ing in Viet­nam, we saw that there was hardly any­thing hap­pen­ing in Cam­bo­dia. It used to be that 70% of the an­i­mal pro­tein the lo­cals con­sumed came from fish, but with fish stocks in Mekong and the sea are on de­cline, there’s a se­vere short­age of fish, so to­day they need to im­port most of it from neigh­bour­ing coun­tries, mainly 2nd grade, pond farmed fish from Thai­land and Viet­nam, trans­ported over long distances un­der poor con­di­tions. Our project will in­crease food se­cu­rity and de­velop self-suf­fi­ciency in aqua­cul­ture pro­duc­tion, and pro­vides the gov­ern­ment a higher qual­ity al­ter­na­tive to counter and in­crease con­trol over the grey mar­ket and smug­gled im­ports,” Mr Myrseth says.

The first phase of the devel­op­ment, which will start in 2017, sees an in­vest­ment of USD 11 mil­lion go­ing into core pro­duc­tion in­fras­truc­ture ac­qui­si­tion, com­pris­ing a shore base, hatch­ery, boats and float­ing cages at sea in nine con­ces­sions, to­talling 540 hectares.

Dur­ing this phase, Vi­ta­mar also ex­pects to pur­chase ju­ve­nile fish from Mardec, the Cam­bo­dian gov­ern­ment hatch­ery, and other re­gional hatch­eries in or­der to start cage farm­ing while de­vel­op­ing ju­ve­nile pro­duc­tion from their own hatch­eries, as well as hir­ing and train­ing the var­i­ous spe­cial­ists who will op­er­ate on the farm.

“The key to suc­cess in fish farm­ing is to make sure you have a well-trained team lo­cally, so they run the com­pany as if it were their own, and that comes from

set­ting up incentive plans for the peo­ple work­ing on the farms. We will also bring in a man­ager from Nor­way who has ex­per­tise in marine trop­i­cal fish farm­ing in other coun­tries, and that per­son will be in charge of both op­er­a­tions as well as train­ing the em­ploy­ees,“Mr Myrseth says.

He started the first trips to Cam­bo­dia back in 2011, and ad­mits that the big­gest challenge has been to con­vince the gov­ern­ment to make mi­nor changes to leg­is­la­tion in or­der to at­tract in­vestors in this sec­tor, a process he ini­tially ex­pected to hap­pen rel­a­tively quickly.

“We’ve been slowly work­ing to­wards re­ceiv­ing ap­proval from the Cam­bo­dian Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that ap­proves all in­vest­ments in the coun­try within 28 days, and sadly the en­tire ad­min­is­tra­tion seems to be very in­se­cure about what fish farm­ing re­ally is and that has slowed down the process con­sid­er­ably. Ex­plain­ing to them in de­tail what we plan to do, en­sur­ing that the devel­op­ment will have no harm­ful ef­fects on the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment, be­comes a large part of the so­lu­tion,“Mr Myrseth adds.

A re­port by the Cen­ter for Coastal Fish­eries and Habi­tat Re­search states that there could be sev­eral neg­a­tive ways how fish farm­ing can and has ef­fected the sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment, such as low­er­ing the qual­ity of wa­ter due to the dis­solv­ing ni­tro­gen and phos­pho­rus, tur­bid­ity, lipids and dis­solved oxy­gen fluxes, that is as­so­ci­ated with marine cage us­age.

Usu­ally there are no mea­sur­able ef­fects 30 me­ters be­yond the cages when farms are sited in well-flushed wa­ters. Nu­tri­ent spikes and de­clines in dis­solved oxy­gen some­times are seen fol­low­ing feed­ing events, but there are few re­ports of long-term risk to wa­ter qual­ity from marine aqua­cul­ture.

The trend of many stud­ies over the last 20 years in­di­cates that im­prove­ments in feed for­mu­la­tion and feed­ing ef­fi­ciency are the ma­jor rea­sons for de­creased nu­tri­ent load­ing and ac­cept­able wa­ter qual­ity in and near farms, and ex­plains why sig­nif­i­cant en­rich­ment to the wa­ter col­umn at off­shore farms is gen­er­ally not de­tected. Im­paired wa­ter qual­ity may be ob­served around farms in nearshore or in­ter­tidal habi­tats where flush­ing is min­i­mal and at farms us­ing feeds that in­clude un­pro­cessed raw fish rather than for­mu­lated feeds. Pro­tec­tion of wa­ter qual­ity will be best achieved by sit­ing farms in well-flushed wa­ters.

“An­other is­sue is the po­ten­tial of emit­ting a lot of dis­charge from the cages, but to counter that, we plan to use site ro­ta­tion, which is ex­actly the method used in agri­cul­ture, where we have a num­ber of sites in the sea and we plan to move the cages af­ter a pe­riod of a year, which will give the seabed time to re­cover if sed­i­ments or feed will hit the bot­tom. Af­ter a year, there will be no signs of what we’ve been do­ing. It’s a com­pletely sus­tain­able way of fish farm­ing,” he says.

Once the gov­ern­ment has of­fi­cially ap­proved the project, what re­mains is to fin­ish the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact study that is pre­sented to the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment to then is­sue the fi­nal li­censes, the process is ex­pected to take an­other six month. From that point on­wards, Mr Myrseth hopes to at­tract a few more in­vestors in or­der to ramp up pro­duc­tion to full ca­pac­ity of pro­duc­ing 3,000 tons of Bar­ra­mundi, Red Snap­per, Grouper and Pom­pano per an­num.

“As pro­duc­tion grows, we will need to step up with branding and mar­ket­ing, and once we’re well es­tab­lished af­ter a few years, we plan to start ex­port­ing, pri­mar­ily to neigh­bour­ing coun­tries and even­tu­ally in­ter­na­tion­ally. When we’re at full ca­pac­ity, we ex­pect to have a work­force of around 300 peo­ple work­ing in cages, the hatch­eries, but also in trans­port­ing and ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Ac­cord­ing to Vi­ta­mar’s in­ter­nal mar­ket study, there is de­mand for 10,00020,000 tons of high value marine fish in Cam­bo­dia, so there is def­i­nitely room for ad­di­tional farms to be de­velop, but Mr Myrseth is quick to point out that the coast is not very long and parts of it are very shal­low, which makes it not suit­able for fish farm­ing in cages. The open sea in the gulf of Thai­land is also li­able to bad weather dur­ing cer­tain parts of the year, which sets yet an­other lim­i­ta­tion on the po­ten­tial.

“Be­yond this project, we think it would be in­ter­est­ing to ap­ply some of the same tech­niques on fresh wa­ter fish farm­ing, but we need to learn how to walk be­fore we run. This will be the next step I be­lieve, be­fore we move into neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. The key priority now is to build a solid foun­da­tion of knowl­edge on how to op­er­ate in Cam­bo­dia,“Mr Myrseth says.



Above left: Marine Farms aqua­cul­ture project north of Nha Trang in Viet­nam. Above: Marine Farms Co­bia pro­cess­ing plant. The aqua­cul­ture ex­pe­ri­ence gained in Viet­nam is the ba­sis for Vi­ta­mar's ex­pan­sion into Cam­bo­dia.

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