1. Mr Ong Kim Pit’s fish farm in Lim Chu Kang was hit on Friday by mass fish deaths, which had first affected farms in the east of the island. He has lost more than 60,000 baby and adult Mullet fish, with losses estimated at $10,000. Photo by Lau Fook Kong
2. Friends Wong Jing Kai (left) and Bryan Ang, who went into partnership with Mr Teh Aik Hua, 60, who owns Ah Hua Kelong, lost 80 per cent of their fish in the recent mass fish deaths at their farm near Pasir Ris. Photo by Seah Kwang Peng
Fish deaths: Fish farmers mentally prepared for more losses, and resigned to fate
The plankton bloom that hit fish farms along the Johor Strait has caused millions of dollars in losses, and plenty of heartache. But while some farmers have decided to simply take it on the chin, others are fighting back. The Straits Times speaks to five farms.
By Carolyn Khew, 9th March 2015;
It has been a tough weekend for 65-year-old fish farmer Ong Kim Pit.
On Friday, his Lim Chu Kang fish farm was hit by mass fish deaths, which had first affected farms in the east of the island.
He lost more than 60,000 baby and adult Mullet fish (Flathead Grey Mullet) (Mugil cephalus), with losses estimated at $10,000.
But he appears to be resigned to his fate.
He said he is aware there are closed rearing systems that can help to isolate fish from the harmful effects of plankton blooms.
But the farmer, who has been in the business for about 20 years, said he is not going to stop using net cages, in which fish are reared in the sea.
When asked why, he said rearing fish in containers is “not so simple” because of the heavy costs involved.
There are also limits on how much fish one can raise in a container, he added.
Besides, the father of three sons, aged 27 to 34, plans to retire in a few years’ time. And he does not want his kids to take over his business as it is a hard life.
“You have to be in the sun and rain a lot and, frankly, I think young people are scared of that,” said Mr Ong.
He said he buys his Mullet and Milkfish (Chanos chanos) fingerlings from Indonesia and feeds them bread and instant noodles for about 11/2 years before he sells them.
He said a similar plankton bloom could see him suffer more loses.
“If I can clear my stock quickly, I’ll do it,” he added.
“The only other thing I can do is to prepare myself mentally. Once the bloom comes, the fish will be gone.”
Fish deaths: Duo turn to online crowdsourcing for help
By Isaac Neo, 9th March 2015;
Fish farming might seem unattractive to most young people, but in the case of 26-year-olds Wong Jing Kai and Bryan Ang, their youth has been a plus.
Last April, the two friends from national service went into partnership with Mr Teh Aik Hua, 60, who owns Ah Hua Kelong.
The farm rears Golden Pomfret (Snubnose Pompano) (Trachinotus blochii), Sea Bass (Barramundi) (Lates calcarifer) and Pearl Groupers (Brown-marbled or Tiger Grouper X Giant Grouper) (Epinephelus fuscoguttatus X lanceolatus), along with mussels and crabs.
The recent plankton bloom wiped out 80 per cent of their entire stock at their farm just five minutes away from Lorong Halus on the north-east coast near Pasir Ris.
The remaining 20 per cent was saved after being moved to their farm in Sembawang.
But they still needed help.
So, the Internet-savvy new partners turned to online crowdsourcing and raised over US$12,000 (S$16,500) through the Indiegogo website.
The money, they said, was needed to help them cover their operating costs. “We are thankful to those who have supported us, it would have been much tougher without them,” said Mr Wong.
They also plan to downsize the Pasir Ris farm and expand their Sembawang farm, which was unaffected by the bloom.
They estimate it will take them at least nine months to get their business back on track and, even then, they may never be able to recover everything. However, they remain optimistic.
They believe their business model which includes delivering the produce straight to households – a plan which the two new partners came up with – is one that will work. Said Mr Ang: “Seafood is something that most Singaporeans really like.”
Workers showing the dead Pompano and Red Snapper at a kelong off Pasir Ris beach on Feb 28, 2015. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) will help fish farmers affected by the recent fish deaths to recover and restart their farms, it said in a statement. Photo by Kevin Lim
AVA to work with farmers affected by fish deaths to recover and build up resilience
5th March 2015;
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) will help fish farmers affected by the recent fish deaths to recover and restart their farms, it said in a statement.
It is also working with external agencies and experts to explore solutions to minimise the impact of plankton bloom.
Late last month, many local fish farms in Changi near the East Johor Straits were affected by plankton bloom. The farms suffered massive fish deaths as a result.
Minister of State for National Development and Defence, Dr Maliki Osman, visited two of the affected fish farms on Thursday.
He said he sympathised with the fish farmers who are affected by the recent incident, but learnt that one farmer who took early action was able to save his fish and minimise losses significantly.
AVA said it sent out an alert to fish farmers in the area on Feb 16 and 17 to warn them about elevated plankton levels and to take the necessary precautions.
“Mr Gary Chang told me that he started preparing for a possible plankton bloom once he was alerted to elevated plankton levels. He lined his net-cages with canvas and installed a simple filtration system to maintain the water quality,” Dr Maliki said.
“Other farmers also took measures, but unfortunately suffered severe losses as they may not have done so early enough.”
Plankton found in seawater can multiply quickly in a very short period of time, and plankton bloom can be triggered by unpredictable weather, higher concentrations of nutrients in the sea water and poor water exchange during high and low tides.
Said Dr Maliki: “Plankton bloom occurrences are very difficult to prevent, but it is possible to reduce the impact. Whilst we provide assistance to help farmers tide over this difficult period, it is also important for farmers to do their part to take mitigating measures early.”
AVA is also looking into how to build up farmers’ resilience against such incidents. This includes putting in place robust contingency plans and conducting contingency exercises, he added. “We will also ask those who have taken early action to share their experience with other farmers.”
Following a similar episode of plankton bloom last year, AVA started to work with the Tropical Marine Science Institute at the National University of Singapore to conduct studies on plankton bloom. The studies are still ongoing.
AVA also called for proposals for closed-containment aquaculture systems for coastal fish farming last year.
The agency recently awarded the tender to five companies to develop a more sustainable sea-based farming system that will minimise exposure to environmental changes, such as plankton bloom.
AVA CEO Tan Poh Hong said: “The proposals from the companies are promising… We hope that the projects can bring about significant improvements to boost the resilience of fish farming.”
1. Workers showing the dead Sea Bass at a kelong off Pasir Ris beach on Feb 28, 2015. Offshore farmers from a fishing farm here have put up an appeal for donations online.
2-3. Dead fish (wild ones, not from kelong) washed ashore along Pasir Ris beach on Feb 28 2015.
4. Workers looking at dead fishes at a kelong off Pasir Ris beach on Feb 28 2015.
5. Dead Pompano at a kelong off Pasir Ris beach on Feb 28 2015.
6-7. Workers showing the dead Pompano and Red Snappers at a kelong off Pasir Ris beach on Feb 28 2015.
Photos by Kevin Lim
Fish farmers source donations online to tide them over during plankton bloom
By Jalelah Abu Bakar, 2nd March 2015;
Offshore farmers from a fishing farm here have put up an appeal for donations online after an environmental crisis that has caused them huge losses.
Ah Hua Kelong, which is located off Lorong Halus on the north-east coast, attributed the loss in 80 per cent of their fish to a plankton bloom. The phenomenon happens when the micro-organisms found in seawater multiply quickly in a very short time, draining the seawater of oxygen. Majority of the farm’s fishes have died as a result.
The farmers wrote on crowdfunding site Indiegogo: “We are on the verge of losing the workers, the farm and everything we have and it is not just because of broken supply but because of the news and speculations.”
They added that 20 per cent of their fish are healthy and safe to sell and eat because they were transferred out of “troubled waters”. Ah Hua Kelong specialises in farming Grouper (SubF. Epinephelinae), Sea Bass (Barramundi) (Lates calcarifer) and Golden Pomfret (Snubnose Pompano) (Trachinotus blochii), according to its website.
The Straits Times reported on Sunday that thousands of fish died in coastal farms off Changi. Dead fish were also seen along the Pasir Ris shoreline. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) attributed the deaths to gill damage caused by plankton. AVA was quoted as saying that lab tests conducted so far did not detect biological toxins in the fish, and fish from local farms remains safe to eat.
Ah Hua Kelong started the project on Feb 28, and has set a goal of US$20,000 (S$27,303). By Monday morning, it has raised US$3,563 (S$4,864). The fund-raising will continue till March 30.
“We are not asking for much. We hope to raise enough to only help us pay off expense for at least 3 months since now both demand and supply are in the ditch,” the farmers wrote.
1. Workers showing the dead Pompano and Red Snapper at a kelong off Pasir Ris beach yesterday. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore attributed the deaths to gill damage caused by plankton.
2. Workers showing the dead Pompano and Red Snapper at a kelong off Pasir Ris beach on Feb 28, 2015. The fish at the fish farms off Changi have been found dead.
3. Dead Snappers (mostly Pompano in this photo though) at a kelong off Pasir Ris beach on Feb 28, 2015.
4. Workers showing the dead Sea Bass at a kelong. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) attributed the deaths to gill damage caused by plankton.
5. Workers looking at dead fish at a kelong off Pasir Ris beach on 28 February 2015.. Lab tests conducted so far did not detect biological toxins in the fish, and fish from local farms remain safe to eat, an AVA spokesman said.
6. Dead fish were also seen along the Pasir Ris shoreline.
7. The dead fish, believed to have come from the wild, washed ashore along Pasir Ris beach.
Photos by Kevin Lim
Mass fish deaths overnight hit Changi farmers hard
By Kash Cheong, 1st March 2015;
Thousands of fish have died in coastal farms off Changi, in a repeat of last year’s nightmare for farmers.
Farmers woke up yesterday morning to the sight of their fish floating belly up – the mass deaths had occurred through the night, so they had no opportunity to try to save their fish.
Dead fish were also seen along the Pasir Ris shoreline.
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) attributed the deaths to gill damage caused by plankton. Lab tests conducted so far did not detect biological toxins in the fish, and fish from local farms remains safe to eat, an AVA spokesman said.
At around the same period last year, 160 tonnes of fish died suddenly, also after being poisoned by plankton, and the 39 affected fish farms lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Yesterday, some despairing farmers told The Sunday Times that they hope to get more support and training in modern farming methods that can minimise pollution and bacteria growth, particularly since the authorities are encouraging the trade to help boost Singapore’s self-sufficiency in food production.
AVA had advised farmers to take precautions since Feb 16, when there were elevated plankton levels detected in the East Johor Strait.
But the overnight deaths took most by surprise.
“I thought I was prepared this year. I even had aerated tanks to save the fish if a few started dying,” said fish farmer Timothy Hromatka, 42, who studied marine biology.
“But it was too late,” said Mr Hromatka, who lost most of his fish.
Fish farmer Phillip Lim, 53, noting that a few fish had started dying as early as mid-February, added dejectedly: “That was just the ‘appetiser’. Friday night was the ‘main course’.”
The former president of the Singapore Marine Aquaculture Cooperative estimates that almost 50 farms were affected this time round.
“It could be worse than last year. This year, it looks like more fish died and the wild fish also died,” added Mr Lim, who estimates his losses at more than $50,000. He reared popular species such as Sea Bass (Barramundi) (), Snapper (Lutjanus sp.) and Pomfret (Snubnose Pompano) (Trachinotus blochii).
Fish farmer Daniel Wee, 40, is in the same predicament.
He had received tens of thousands of dollars from the AVA to kick-start his fish farm again after last year’s mass deaths wiped out his stock, and spent another $20,000 on fish feed. But yet again, most of his 70,000 fish were wiped out. “It’s a really, really tough business now,” said Mr Wee, who estimates he lost $100,000.
“We need to learn new methods to take local fish farming to the next level.”