Fish farms in west spared from plankton woes

Irene Tham, Straits Times 3 Jan 10;

Fish farmers along the west coast of Singapore said they are off the hook in terms of huge losses faced by their counterparts in the east.

A plankton bloom that first hit fish farms off Pasir Ris Beach 12 days ago - depriving the fish of oxygen - has also plagued farms around Pulau Ubin.

The sinking news to date: About 20 floating farms reporting a combined loss of 300,000 fish worth about $2.7 million, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) told The Sunday Times.

However, fish farmers in the west said they are spared from these woes as the types of fish they rear are sturdier.

Mr Malcolm Ong, 46, whose floating farm is about 1km off Lim Chu Kang Jetty, said none of his stock has died so far.

'We rear milk fish and mullet, which are tougher. They also feed on plankton,' he added.

Another milk fish and mullet farmer, Mr Ching Ching Heng, 34, gave the same report: 'We are not affected.'

His farm is about 300m off the same jetty.

The AVA has confirmed that no dead fish have been reported so far by the 48 floating farms in the West Johor Strait, off Lim Chu Kang.

Rearing mostly milk fish, mullet, grouper, seabass, snapper and marine tilapia, they account for about three-quarters of the total aquaculture production here.

The two fish farms off Pulau Semakau, south of Singapore, are also unaffected by the plankton bloom.

The bloom has caused the 20 fish farmers off Pasir Ris Beach and around Pulau Ubin to suffer their biggest loss in the 10 years they have been in business.

Chief among their lost stocks: tiger garoupas, cultivated over the last two years and primed for harvest for next month's Chinese New Year.

Last week, The Straits Times reported that about 1,000 dead fish, mainly tiger garoupas, had washed ashore.

The AVA had explained that the current plankton bloom was triggered by a combination of factors: sudden shift in weather between bouts of sunshine and heavy rain; nutrients from the land washed into the sea by the rain; and little water exchange from rising and ebbing tides.

The spike in the number of these organisms drains the seawater of oxygen, subsequently suffocating fish and other sea creatures.

This is the first time fish farmers here have been hit in this way.

There are a total of 106 licensed coastal floating netcage fish farms. Of these, 56 are in the east off Pasir Ris Beach and around Pulau Ubin.

In total, the farms produced some 3,235 tonnes of fish valued at $11.4 million in 2008, accounting for 4 per cent to 5 per cent of the fish consumed here yearly.

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