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.
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.