1. Gills N Claws’ farm manager, Steven Wong, holds up a fish covered in oil.
  2. The Green Mussels that Gills N Claws breeds as food supply for lobsters is covered in oil.

Photos: Winnie Goh

Fish farms reeling from impact of oil spill off Johor
By Monica Kotwani & Vanessa Lim, 5th January 2017;

At a fish farm north of Pulau Ubin, workers panicked on Wednesday (Jan 4) when they saw what was meant to be their Chinese New Year harvest turn belly-up in the water.

The farm, owned by Gills N Claws, told Channel NewsAsia it lost about 1,000 fish, after a nearby vessel collision the day before saw about 300 tonnes of oil spill into the sea. Gills N Claws said the oil seeped into its nets containing fish such as Red Snappers (Lutjanus sp.), Pearl Groupers (Epinephelus fuscoguttatus x lanceolatus) and the Silver Pomfret (Pampus argenteus).

“Our workers scrambled to put up canvasses outside the floating platforms provided by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA),” said Gills N Claws’ head of operations, Winston Siv Raj. “But 70 per cent of the fish meant to be sold in time for Chinese New Year have died.”

The farm also breeds Crabs (likely Swimming Crabs) (F. Portunidae) and Lobsters (Spiny Lobsters) (Panulirus sp.). These too were found coated in engine oil, as were the Green Mussels (Perna viridis) grown as food for the lobsters. Farm manager Steven Wong lifted ropes on which the mussels were growing, only to find them caked with oily sludge.

When Channel NewsAsia arrived at the farm, staff from AVA and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) were on the scene, with AVA officials packing a Red Snapper and some mussels for tests at their laboratory.

Mr Raj said estimates the damage could run up to S$700,000, as the company also needs to change all its fish nets and floats, as well as supporting anchor points and connecting ropes that were ruined by the oil.

“This does not include the fish and lobsters that survived. The figures could change drastically if the AVA finds that the lobsters and fish taken for lab tests are unfit for consumption,” he said.

Other fish farms are still trying to assess their losses. At a farm owned by 2 Jays, the surface of the water surrounded by netting was coated with a thick layer of black oil and the air smelled of diesel.

Workers were throwing large cloth pads into the water in a bid to soak up the oil, but beyond that, they were unable to do much.

Its operations manager Timothy Ng said his workers could not check their fish stocks without lifting the nets. However if they did, they would risk killing more fish, as the surviving fish could choke on the oil floating on top if they came near the surface, he said. To prevent fish from suffocating in this fashion, workers were also instructed not to feed them.

The co-owner of Farm 85 Aquaculture, Andrew Sim, meantime, was at a loss for words, gazing out at his oil-coated fish pens. “I don’t know what to do … It’s too much already.“

Sale of fish at 3 farms suspended

AVA had said on Wednesday that two farms saw fish deaths due to the oil spill and that up to 200kg of fish had died.

On Thursday, it said more farms were found to have tainted nets and structures, compared to the day before due to tidal movement. It has issued oil absorbent pads and canvas to 22 farmers closest to the oil spill site to help protect their fish stock.

Aside from the two farms however, "most of the farms in the same area did not report fish mortality,” said Dr Leong Hon Keong, group director of AVA’s Technology and Industry Development Group.“There is minimal impact to supply. Nevertheless, AVA will continue to monitor the situation and assist the fish farmers, including assisting in clean-up efforts.”

As a precautionary measure, AVA has collected fish samples for food safety tests and will continue to do so, it said. The authority also issued orders to three farms to suspend sales of fish until food safety evaluations are complete.

A total of 17 vessels and more than 220 personnel have been mobilised for a massive clean-up in the wake of the oil spill, MPA said. Changi Beach was also partially closed on Wednesday as a safety precaution.

Source: Channel NewsAsia

NEA cleaners cleaning up the dead fish washed up on Lim Chu Kang jetty. Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday said the bloom will pose a “real challenge for long-term fish farming in that area”. Photo by Lau Fook Kong

Plankton bloom causing fish deaths ‘likely to recur’
AVA and farmers must discuss best way to tackle challenge: Vivian
By Carolyn Khew, 9th March 2015;

The plankton bloom behind the recent mass deaths of fish along the Johor Strait is likely to keep happening.

And this will pose a “real challenge for long-term fish farming in that area”, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan yesterday.

“The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority and the fish farmers are going to have to sit down to discuss what’s the best way forward.”

Two Saturdays ago, coastal farms in Changi lost thousands of fish to plankton bloom. Then last Friday, farms in Lim Chu Kang were hit. More than 500 tonnes of fish have been lost.

Asked about the issue yesterday, on the sidelines of the Green Corridor Run, Dr Balakrishnan said that plankton blooms tend to occur whenever there is a dry spell or drought.

This is especially true for the waters facing the Strait of Johor.

“This is likely to be a recurrent problem with global warming, with greater incidence of both droughts as well as heavy, intense storms,” he added.

Plankton blooms can be deadly as the plankton suck oxygen from the water, suffocating other marine life.

The National Environment Agency said that the first half of this month is expected to have less rainfall than usual. This follows significantly low levels of rain in the previous two months.

The dry weather is partly due to the early onset of the north-east monsoon’s dry phase, which is characterised by drier weather and occasional wind.

Last Saturday, dead fish, including Catfish (F. Ariidae and F. Plotosidae) and Mullet (F. Mugilidae), were found washed up on the shores at Lim Chu Kang jetty, resulting in a clean-up operation by the National Environment Agency which continued until yesterday.

It is believed that more than 200 bags of dead fish were collected at the jetty.

Across the Causeway, Malaysian reports estimated that six tonnes of wild and cultured fish were found dead in areas such as Johor Port and Puteri Harbour.

The AVA said last week that it will provide assistance to fish farmers affected by the fish deaths, so that they can recover and restart their operations. There are 117 coastal farms around Singapore.

It is also looking to enhance their ability to better withstand such incidents – for instance, by putting in place contingency plans.

Fish farmer Simon Ho, who is in his 60s, hopes for a longer-term solution to prevent the mass fish deaths from happening again.

The plankton bloom wiped out all 80,000 of his Silver Pomfrets (Pampus sp.) this year.

When the bloom hit last year, he managed to save half of his stock.

“I’m not going to start rearing fish again until there’s a solution to the plankton problem,” said Mr Ho, who owns New Ocean Fish Farm.

“We’ve tried so hard already.”

Source: The Straits Times

Thousand of dead fishes, including catfish and puffer fish, washed up at Pasir Ris beach on Feb 28, 2015. Photo: Wild Shores of Singapore

Lab test sheds further light on fish deaths
Suspected type of algae not toxic to humans
By Neo Chai Chin, 4th March 2015;

Laboratory tests of a seawater sample taken off Pasir Ris have zeroed in on the type of algae that wiped out massive quantities of farmed and wild fish in recent days.

The species of algae behind the mass fish deaths off Pasir Ris likely belongs to the Gymnodinium group. It is suspected to be Gymnodinium mikimotoi, according to the experts at DHI Water & Environment, but the exact species can only be confirmed through further genetic tests. Gymnodinium mikimotoi, also known as Karenia mikimotoi, is not toxic to humans, but has been associated with massive kills of wild and farmed fishes in Japan and Korea.

TODAY commissioned the laboratory test yesterday (March 3) using a water sample provided by a fish farmer operating off Pasir Ris. The sample was taken last Saturday when most affected fish farmers reported the sudden deaths of their stocks.

The test showed concentrations of the algae at 88,529 cells per millilitre – a “very, very high” concentration, according to Dr Hans Eikaas, head of environmental technology and chemistry at DHI, a not-for-profit group offering consultancy and water-modelling services.

Concentrations above 10,000 cells per millilitre are considered a full algal bloom by any international standard, he said. Seawater in normal conditions contain 200 to 300 cells per millilitre and comprise 100 or more different plankton species. Dr Eikaas said the algae bloom was the main cause of the fish deaths, with the algae likely clogging up the gills of the fish.

But ammonia in the seawater probably magnified the scale of fish deaths. Ammonia is a waste product of fish, and is also produced when bacteria decomposes organic matter without oxygen. More ammonia is produced when water is warm, and when there is more organic matter, such as when algae dies. In gas form, it is toxic to fish and can cause convulsions and death, said Dr Eikaas.

Water rich in ammonia and nitrogen is advantageous to algae in the Gymnodinium group. Warm water, which the Republic has seen in recent weeks, also stresses fish out. These factors mean “multiple blows” dealt to the marine life, Dr Eikaas said.

“I would assume ammonia building up could have caused sub-lethal toxicity to the fish – mainly, their gills get inflamed. Then algae doubles every 24 hours… (and the deaths) appear like a sudden event,” he explained. The algae would have taken about a week to bloom to the level shown in the lab test, he added.

If the suspected species is indeed the Gymnodinium mikimotoi, the algae is not known to cause any effect to humans who have eaten affected fish, Dr Eikaas said. Associate Professor Lim Po Teen of the University of Malaya’s Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences said nutrient-rich coastal waters from human activities are believed to be the triggers of algal blooms. Another source of the problem is the introduction of algae species through ships’ ballast water. Efforts to mitigate harmful algal blooms so far include setting up perimeters at aquaculture farms and reduced feeding of farmed fishes, he said.

Dr Eikaas said the recent harmful algal bloom is a natural occurrence that is almost impossible to prevent, but with a monitoring system and simulation forecasting programme, it is not impossible to get a heads-up on. “With regular daily monitoring, we should have had several days’ lead time on this,” he said.

According to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in the United States, Gymnodinium mikimotoi is associated with recurring blooms off the coasts of Japan and Korea and are associated with massive fish and shellfish kills. Blooms have also been reported in Australia, Denmark, Norway and Scotland.

Farmers contacted yesterday said they have spent recent days clearing dead fish from their farms. Some expressed hope that the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority would provide financial assistance, while others said they would relocate if given the chance. Fish farmer Simon Ho said his entire stock of over 30 tonnes of Silver Pomfret (Pampus sp.) was wiped out. Marine Life Aquaculture chief operating officer Frank Tan said the company’s offshore operations lost 120 tonnes of Four-finger Threadfin (Eleutheronema tetradactylum) and Sea Bass (Lates calcarifer). The company had previously identified two sites – near the Southern Islands and Pulau Tekong – as possible areas to move to, but Mr Tan said that with different conditions such as bigger tidal waves, a move would entail a change of operations and re-investment.

Source: TODAY