Friday, December 11, 2009

More S'pore farmed fish on menu

Dec 11, 2009
Republic's largest commercial fish farm a sign of things to come
By Victoria Vaughan

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan visiting Singapore's largest commercial fish farm, Barramundi Asia, off Pulau Semakau. To his right is the farm's managing director, Mr Joep Kleine Staarman, and to his left, Ms Tan Poh Hong, AVA's chief executive officer. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

SINGAPORE'S calm and sheltered waters may be a haven for fish farming ventures - which will become more important as oceans are depleted due to over-fishing.

A sign of the future can be found south of Pulau Semakau, where Singapore's largest commercial fish farm has started to supply its seabass to local restaurants and supermarkets.

From 'super fry' engineered by local marine scientists, Barramundi Asia began harvesting the fish from its 14 sea cages in October as they reached the desired weight of about 1kg each. It has harvested 80tonnes so far.

Barramundi Asia will generate 500tonnes of fish this year and has a target of 3,000tonnes a year by 2012, which would represent about 86per cent of Singapore's current local fish production and 3per cent of total fish consumption.

Managing director Joep Kleine Staarman said Singapore provides a safe harbour for fish farming as it is not prone to disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes and typhoons. Fish farming is difficult as it is susceptible to disaster and disease.

His previous company, Marine Harvest, had to shut down its Australian farm in 2005 after it fell victim to a cyclone and high spring tides which allowed three-quarters of its stocks to escape.

He has high hopes for the new venture in Singapore. 'We hope to be the first large farming operation for tropical food fish in the world,' said Mr Staarman, a Dutchman who is a permanent resident.

'There exists large operations for salmon and tilapia fresh water fish, but not for tropical fish.'

The company was granted a licence by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) in May last year to farm fish in the designated waters off landfill site Pulau Semakau. It aims to set up a second fish farm in the area to produce another 3,000 tonnes by 2020, and to look at supplying other varieties such as red snapper.

Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan said the Government wants to increase local fish production from 4per cent to 15per cent of consumption - about 15,000 tonnes of fish - and will require another four or five farms the size of Barramundi Asia.

In a visit to the farm yesterday, he launched the AVA's Food Fund, set up to help diversify and increase Singapore's food sources via co-funding of projects.

Mr Eric Tan, 52, a partner in Barramundi Asia, said: 'We will look to apply to the Food Fund as quickly as we can for funding for technologies such as automated fish feeding.'

The company uses European and Japanese sea cage fish farming technology.

The 2ha fish farm uses steel cages measuring 15m by 15m, at a depth of about 10m, which are able to contain 30,000 fish each. It has a yield of 80per cent as some fish are lost to disease despite being vaccinated.

The $3million farm is still installing cages, and will eventually have 36.

The super seabass fry come from the AVA's Marine Aquaculture Centre. They are genetically selected seabass that grow 15per cent faster than average.

The lcm fry spend two months in the company's nursery on Pulau Semakau before being transferred to the sea cages.

Fed twice daily on imported dry pellets, the fish take 18 to 24 months to reach the desired weight. They are then harvested and sold to Jurong Fishery Port or to restaurants. It is also available at local supermarkets.

Sheng Siong began purchasing 300kg a week about two to three months ago.

'Sales have been brisk,' said a supermarket spokesman.

There are 106 licensed coastal floating netcage fish farms in Singapore's coastal waters. Last year, the marine aquaculture industry produced 3,235 tonnes of food fish at a value of $11.4million.

Grouper, seabass and snapper are produced, as well as crabs, shrimp and mussels.

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