13 ornamental fish farms in Pasir Ris to close by the end of 2014

Straits Times 14 Jan 13;

THIRTEEN fish farms in Pasir Ris - popular for their fish spas, prawning and fishing facilities - will close by the end of 2014.

It comes amid a slump in Singapore's export of ornamental fish, which has fallen to 2002 levels.

Leases for the farms, which sit on a 216,680 sq m plot of state land, will expire between November this year and December 2014.

A spokesman for the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), which manages the land, said it has been earmarked for industrial development. "Hence the JTC, URA, AVA and SLA are only able to agree to an extension until Dec 31, 2014 for those farm leases that expire before this date," she said, adding that affected tenants were told of the extension last September.

The Pasir Ris fish farmers have banded together to appeal for at least a five-year lease extension or more.

Their 45-page letter was delivered to the authorities last week, said Mr Desmond Yeoh, 58, one of the affected farmers. He owns Mainland Tropical Fish Farm at Pasir Ris Farmway 1.

The letter, said Mr Yeoh, was signed by all affected fish farmers while an appeal for an extension was also lodged with the SLA.

"They told us no more renewal," said Mr Yeoh, who has moved four times since the 1970s. "Our trade has been passed down from generation to generation. If there is no renewal, it is like sending the business to the grave."

Mr Yeoh said he could move if the Government opens up new land for ornamental fish farms.

Another farmer affected is Mr Seah Swee Poh, 46, who runs Lian Shing Fishery Impex at Pasir Ris Farmway 2. "We may close. We will have to start over with an empty plot of land and build it up again," he said in Mandarin.

A spokesman for the Urban Redevelopment Authority said that in deciding how to allocate land, it has to ensure there is sufficient land to meet critical needs such as housing, industry and infrastructure. "Not all agriculture activities can be accommodated in the long term. General farming activities such as ornamental fish farming can be catered to in the interim where land is not needed for other critical needs," he added.

JESSICA LIM

Rough seas ahead for ornamental fish exporters
Exports slump to 2002 levels; dealers face land constraints, falling demand
Jessica Lim Straits Times 14 Jan 13;

THE amount of ornamental fish being exported by Singapore has dropped to the levels of a decade ago, due to falling global demand and constraints here.

Statistics released by the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) last week revealed that companies in Singapore exported $78 million worth of fish in 2011, down from $101 million in 2007.

In 2002, Singapore exported $75 million worth. Last year's figures are not yet available.

Companies said it could be a sign that Singapore is losing its grip on its position as the world's largest exporter.

Many point to difficulties such as trouble attracting staff, the lack of space for expansion and uncertainty about how long they can remain in one place.

According to the latest data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Singapore held top spot in 2009 with exports of US$59.9 million (S$73.4 million) - 18.7 per cent of the market.

In 2007, Singapore had 21 per cent of the global export market. From 1996 to 2000, the figure was between 24 and 26 per cent.

FAO data also showed a narrowing gap between Singapore and Spain - the second largest exporter. In 2007, the difference was US$34.8 million. By 2009, it was just US$13.1 million.

It could be, said Mr Fong Ching Loon, who chairs the Singapore Aquarium Fish Exporters' Association, that the Republic has already lost top spot. The 75-year-old, who owns a fish farm in Lorong Chencharu, said such farms here can only operate on government-approved land and struggle with land constraints.

Many members, he said, have had to move at least four times in the past 50 years. Often, their leases are extended by only two to three years at a time. Relocating and rebuilding a farm costs about $1 million. He said: "It's not easy for us. Every time we earn money, then in about 10 years we have to move. That bleeds us dry again."

He claimed that this has contributed to some farm closures. The association now has 38 members, down from 45 in 2010.

A meeting with the AVA will be held later this month to discuss such issues, Mr Fong said.

He added: "We are hoping for the various government bodies to designate certain areas as permanent farmland areas or be less stringent on regulations."

Possible subsidies for moving may also be discussed. Mr Fong, who owns Pisces Tropica, has moved five times in 40 years.

The AVA, which regulates and licenses all fish exporters here, also blames a drop in demand.

An agency spokesman said it has been trying to help the industry raise productivity by providing seminars, workshops and training courses.

Assistant Professor Diao Mi of the National University of Singapore's real estate department said: "The challenge the Government faces here is having to make trade-offs between different land uses."

He said it is unlikely the Government will prop up commercial entities. Mr Yeo Eng Meng, managing director of The Straits Aquariums in Jalan Kayu, said the uncertainty has crippled business.

The 70-year-old said that after his 10-year-lease expired, it was renewed several times for two to three years. He can now stay until 2014 but will close when the renewals end. "I've already reduced my exports to almost zero," he said in Mandarin, adding that he has just one customer left. He had 20 in the 1970s.

Other fish exporters like Qian Hu have done better. Its exports went up from 2007 to 2011, but dipped slightly last year due to falling demand in Europe

Deputy managing director Andy Yap, 47, said: "Most other companies here, they are only strong in certain markets. We market very aggressively in the US, Middle East and Asia."

Due north to Johor
Melissa Sim Straits Times 20 Jan 13;

By June this year, fish farmers Chew Kim Hwee, 37, and Nicki Teo, 35, may have to head north to Johor to relocate the business they have been running for four years.

The husband-and-wife team owns Fish Vision Agro-Tech at Pasir Ris Farmway 1, which breeds red snapper, pearl grouper, seabass and other fish fry, which they export and sell to other farmers.

Although June is when the tenancy on their 11ha farm runs out, they have been in talks with the authorities about extending their lease to December next year and have received verbal approval thus far.

However, even if the lease is extended, their future is uncertain as the Singapore Land Authority has said the land will be used for industrial development after 2014.

A fish farm can take a year or even two to build, which is why the couple, who have one child, are already looking for new plots.

Ms Teo says she knows new farms have opened in Pulau Semakau and Pulau Ketam but says this is not feasible as it would cost more than $2 million to set up a farm at either of these two places because of the lack of infrastructure.

With no place to go, the couple have turned to Johor and are "close to confirming" a new location "but we still hope the Government will provide a location here".

She adds: "We still prefer to stay in Singapore because we live here and don't want to go to Johor every day for work."

Trained as an architect, she had her own design company before joining her husband's business. She is also a real estate agent.

Mr Chew was the operations manager in the holding company which owned the farm and went on to buy Fish Vision Agro- Tech when it was up for sale. The couple paid more than $1 million for the farm.

They say that moving to Malaysia will reduce set-up costs as they can take over abandoned farms there. But it will still cost them about $1 million.

The ideal solution would be to extend the lease on the current farm, which brought in $3 million in revenue last year.

Ms Teo asked if it was necessary to build more factories in Pasir Ris and hopes the authorities will consider the land use carefully before "bulldozing and affecting our livelihood".

"We are in line with the Government's push to increase our food supply," she says, explaining why they should be given more land or a further extension on their lease.

Progress in Singapore is important, she says, "but sustainability within our nation is also important".

End of the line?
Time is running out for fish farmers in Pasir Ris as they have to move out by December next year, but most of them have not found alternative sites
Melissa Sim Straits Times 20 Jan 13;

Fish farming has been in his family for three generations but Mr Darren Ong, manager of OTF Aquarium Farm, fears this may be the end of the line for the family business.

His is one of 14 fish farms in Singapore breeding ornamental or edible fish (also known as food fish) which will have to clear out of Pasir Ris by December next year to make way for industrial development.

At the moment, these farms, which take up more than 200,000 sq m of land, or the size of 26 soccer fields, have nowhere else to go.

But the farmers remain hopeful that the authorities will release new plots of land so that they can start building new farms. Time, however, is running out.

Mr Ong, 33, says: "The timeframe is so short. Even if they give us the land now, it takes one year to approve and one more year to build the farm."

Building new farms would cost between $1 million and $3 million, which is expensive for the farmers who say business is not what it used to be.

Statistics from the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) show that Singapore exported $78 million worth of ornamental fish in 2011, down from $101 million in 2007. In terms of food fish, Singapore exported $314,593 worth of fish in 2011, down from $328,990 in 2007.

The AVA set up a Food Fund in 2009, which aimed to increase Singapore's supply of local produce, in particular it aims to increase production of fish from 4 per cent to 15 per cent in five years.

The push to grow the ornamental fish-rearing industry started in the late 1960s, when the Government saw strong export potential in the industry. The support for the industry continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s, when the Government pumped money into fish immunisation projects and encouraged research in fish genetics.

AVA says it will continue to work with the industry to facilitate trade and offer assistance wherever appropriate.

Today, however, the priorities seem to have changed, especially for ornamental fish breeders.

Mr Winson Choo, owner of Tropical Fish International in Pasir Ris, says: "In the 1980s and 1990s, the Government was pushing this trade. But now, it seems that they are asking us to pack up and go."

The Urban Redevelopment Authority has said that in deciding how to allocate land, it has to ensure there is sufficient land to meet critical needs such as housing, industry and infrastructure. A spokesman was quoted in a report last week as saying: "Not all agriculture activities can be accommodated in the long term. General farming activities such as ornamental fish farming can be catered to in the interim where land is not needed for other critical needs.

The Singapore Land Authority has said that the various government agencies are able to agree to an extension only until Dec 31 next year for farm leases that expire before that date.

But the best-case scenario for the farmers would be for the Government to provide new land, as well as extend their current leases beyond next year, so that they can make a smooth transition to new farms.

Mr Ong, whose grandfather started the business in a Yishun kampung in the late 1940s, says: “When the Government moved people out of the kampung, they built HDB flats for them. So I believe the Singapore Land Authority will provide something for us.They must.”

Scaling down is not an option for most farms, as the owners say developing new strains of fish can help a farm differentiate itself from the competition and they require space for such research and development.

Mr Choo, for example, specialises in breeding guppies and proudly showed SundayLife! a strain which only his farm produces, called the Singa Dragon.

Mr Victor Tan, 36, owner of Aquarium Iwarna, breeds clown fish with unique patterns which can fetch up to $500 each, while Mr Ong from OTF Aquarium says he has ongoing self-funded research projects to develop unique strains of stingray.

Mr Tan says: “We have to have facilities and the space. We cannot do breeding in shophouses or industrial parks.” He adds that his company holds talks in schools to tell students about marine conservation and sustainability. Mr Ong has at least 2,000 stingrays and arowanas on his farm. But if the business has to shut down, he asks: “Where will our fish go?”
Without the land, Mr Choo says he would “basically be put out of business”. He adds: “We’ll have to scale down or wind up and give our fish to Malaysian companies to continue breeding.”

On the food fish industry, Professor Paul Teng, a food security expert from the Nanyang Technological University, says there is “still a place for Singapore to maintain a small fish farming sector to provide fresh fish in case of supply disruptions due to reduced imports from nearby countries”.

He adds that Singapore still has sufficient coastal waters which can be used for fish farming and fish here are generally produced under better safety and quality conditions than in some other countries.

Besides Pasir Ris, there are fish farms in Jalan Kayu, Lim Chu Kang and Lorong Chencharu in Yishun.
While most of the farmers believe the authorities will find a way to help them, others are prepared to let their businesses go if there is no lease extension after 2014.

Mr Lau Hong Yin, 71, who breeds tilapia and soon hock, and has been in the business for more than 50 years, says: “We won’t move. If there is no extension on the lease, I will just retire.”

Moved farm three times in 35 years
Melissa Sim Straits Times 20 Jan 13;

Mr Desmond Yeoh's family fish farm has relocated three times in the last 35 years and he may have to move yet again.

The lease on Mainland Tropical Fish Farm ends in December next year but there is no new place to move to yet.

His late father Yeo Keok Meng started the farm in a kampung in Sembawang in the 1930s, breeding carp, shrimp and crabs mainly for local consumption.

In the 1970s, the market for ornamental fish was growing so the farm focused on that.

He declined to reveal revenue figures but says: "Singapore is like a supermarket for ornamental fish. You can get any fish you want from Japan, Nigeria, Peru, anywhere."

Mr Yeoh, 58, runs the 1.63ha farm with his three brothers. His wife is an account executive who helps out on weekends and his son works in sales and is not interested in the business.

He showed SundayLife! photographs of his trips to Kalimantan and Kenya, and shared harrowing stories of how he had to travel for hours in small boats just to see exotic fish, which he hoped to bring back to Singapore for export or to keep as pets.

He has a 250kg pet aripaima, one of the biggest freshwater fish in the world. It was a few centimetres long when he got it from Columbia but it is now 2.4m long.

"I see my fish grow and I'm happy," he says. "You need to have passion for this job. If there is no passion, it's difficult."

The farm is open to the public, who come for the fish spa, prawn catching or guppy catching in a man-made stream.

He has overheard children telling their parents how much they like the farm and says that makes him proud and happy.

But the main business is in the export of stingrays, koi and arowana. The farm moved from Sembawang to Pasir Ris, then to Tampines and then back to Pasir Ris, but business still continues.

Mr Yeoh, who studied up to O levels, says: "This is the only trade I know."

He is brushing aside thoughts of closing shop. He is contacting the Singapore Land Authority and hopes for another plot of land to be put up for tender.

But if there is really nowhere to go, he says, half in jest: "I'll invite 500 people to eat the aripaima, they can each get half a kilogram."

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