Coastal fish farms in Singapore now better prepared for plankton blooms

Plankton blooms have been occurring in Singapore since 2009 and is likely to happen every year. AVA has been working with coastal fish farmers to develop mitigating measures against these occurrences in the long run.

Nur Afifah Ariffin, Channel NewsAsia 18 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE: Coastal fish farms in Singapore are now better prepared for plankton blooms, which occur as a result of environmental factors.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) has been working with coastal fish farmers to develop mitigating measures against plankton bloom occurrences in the long run.

Plankton blooms have been occurring in Singapore since 2009 and is likely to happen every year. In 2015, more than 50 coastal farms across Singapore lost more than 500 tonnes of fish to the plankton bloom, causing some fish farms to lose more than S$1 million in earnings.

To mitigate the impact of a future occurrence, fish farm Marine Life Aquaculture has installed a system that can be deployed to transfer fish from nets to canvas bags within half an hour. It is a quick and affordable measure that coastal fish farms can adopt without disrupting production.

Managing director of Marine Life Aquaculture, Frank Tan, said: "We can just simply deploy in a very fast way and very efficiently. The productivity is very high. Of course, it has very great benefits and it gives us business continuity to prevent any disruption of production."

While each of the canvas bags can hold up nearly 2,000 kilogrammes of fish, this is only a temporary measure that the fish farm adopts to save its most important brood stock.

The AVA has commissioned projects to develop similar systems. Five companies were awarded the tender in April 2015. So far, three companies have already demonstrated their systems to the AVA.

Another fish farm, Blue Ocean Harvest, created a system that deploys canvas bags with a water treatment system while Singapore Aquaculture Technologies created a production unit that uses above-sea-level tanks.

Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon lauded their efforts during his visit to some of these coastal farms. He also encouraged more farms to jump on the bandwagon.

Said Dr Koh: “With global warming being a global phenomenon, fish farms all over the world are facing challenges like this.

“As part of business continuity, our fish farmers need to really think about using and leveraging on technology to make the business resilient. At the end of the day, it is not just about their business being resilient, but also our food source being resilient."

The AVA is helping fish farmers by monitoring the plankton count in Singapore waters. It has also developed a colour-coded SMS alert system to warn farmers of an impending plankton bloom.

- CNA/xk

AVA steps up efforts to help fish farmers safeguard their livestock
Today Online 19 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE — The Agri-food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has stepped up its efforts to monitor the quality of coastal waters, in order to give early warnings to farmers when possible adverse conditions are detected.

Recent outbreaks of harmful algal blooms in the past years have threatened Singapore fisheries. Last year alone, more than 500 tonnes of fish were killed by such outbreaks, which are hard to predict or prevent.

The monitoring frequency by the AVA has gone up from one to two times a month to one to two times a week, an AVA spokesperson said, although there were no details on when “high risk periods” are since research is ongoing.

Along with the more frequent monitoring, a new colour-coded early warning system for coastal fish farmers in Singapore has been rolled out, which advises them via SMS on the appropriate follow-up actions depending on how severe the situation is. The alerts allow farmers to deploy the relevant strategies, such as isolating their livestock from the harmful plankton bloom (HAB).

The AVA has offered support to the affected farms with a one-time assistance package, to help them recover and build up farm resilience to future plankton episodes.

As part of the aid, the AVA will pay for 70 per cent of the cost to restock fish fry after the farms demonstrate that they have in place contingency plans. More than 60 out of the 77 farms that were affected by last year’s episode have taken up the offer.

Mr Bryan Ang, 25, marketing manager at Ah Hua Kelong, whose farm took up the package, said: “It helps to cover some of our losses, any help is better than no help.”

As part of a Co-Innovation Partnership Programme (CIP) which encourages the design and development of Closed Containment Aquaculture System for coastal fish farms, three workable prototypes have been developed to help coastal fish farmers protect their livestock from the harmful plankton.

With CIP funding, a 100-per-cent closed-containment system has been deployed at one farm, Singapore Aquaculture Technologies. It uses large culture tanks supported by a continuous water treatment system, and they are isolated from the sea, helping them to avoid the harmful plankton in seawater.

The other two prototypes at the Blue Ocean Harvest and Phaedrus Aquatech farms offer deployable closed containment canvas bags in the event of poor water quality. A mechanised system at Blue Ocean can deploy a containment bag within less than 10 minutes with a single worker.

While these prototype close-containment systems have proven conceptually effective in tackling the plankton issue, some farmers are standing back and waiting for the long-term viability of the system before considering adopting them.

Mr Ang said: “Even though overseas testing has been successful, the local waters may be different, so we are not ready to take the risk at the moment. Barnacles may clog up the system and there is a possibility that HABs can bloom within the containment system itself.”

Dr Koh Poh Koon, Minister of State (Trade and Industry), took a tour around the coastal farms yesterday. He said: “Every farmer will have to find the technology that suits them best, and in the long term there will be some gains using technology.”

He hopes to increase the output of Singapore fish farms from the current eight per cent of fish consumed in Singapore to at least 15 per cent in future.

“Our fish farmers will need to use technology to ensure business continuity and resilience,” he said.

“At the end of the day, it’s not just about their business being resilient, but also our food source being resilient. So, it is in our interest to see them succeed.”

Fish farms get help, make plans to prepare for harmful algae blooms
Carolyn Khew, Straits Times AsiaOne 18 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE- More than 60 fish farms affected by the devastating algae bloom early last year have received assistance from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).

The devastating bloom affected 77 coastal fish farms last year and caused millions of dollars in losses for coastal fish farms off the East and West Johor Straits - which mostly rear their fish in open net-cages.

To date, 63 of the 77 affected farms have accepted help from the AVA. Under the one-time assistance package, AVA will pay for 70 per cent of the farm's cost to restock fish fry, but farms will need to demonstrate that they have a workable contingency plan in place when the next algae bloom strikes.

These figures were revealed on Monday (Jan 18) during a visit to fish farms by Minister of State for National Development, and Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon.

"With global warming, I think there is probably a likelihood that it (algae blooms) will happen again," said Dr Koh.

"As part of business continuity, our fish farmers really need to think about leveraging on technology to make their business resilient."

Factors such as dry weather and an excess of nutrients can lead to an overgrowth of algae in the waters. While not all algae are harmful, some can suffocate fish, or cause gill damage - as was the case last year.

One farmer who has benefitted from the assistance package is Mr Frank Tan, chief operating officer of Marine Life Aquaculture, which lost 138 tonnes of fish stock during last year's algae bloom.

He has since developed a contingency plan using canvas bags which would allow him to save his broodstock in the event an algae bloom hits.

Fish farm's contingency in case of algae bloom

"You are usually able to tell weeks before when an algae bloom is about to come. The fish would not be eating well...," said Mr Tan. "With the canvas bags, you can keep the fish there for 15 days and by then, the algal bloom would most likely be over."

Separately, three fish farms have finished developing prototypes for their closed containment aquaculture systems after the Government had awarded a tender in April last year.

While costly to implement, such systems are able to protect the fish from external environmental conditions and are equipped with water treatment systems to maintain optimal water quality for breeding fish stocks.

Among other efforts, AVA has also developed a colour-coded SMS alert system to warn coastal fish farmers of algal blooms. In the SMS alerts, farmers will be advised on follow up actions depending on the severity of the situation.

Fish was sedated: Minister clears speculation over 'dead fish' during fish farm visit
AsiaOne 20 Jan 16;

SINGAPORE - Online speculation was rife that Minister of State for National Development, and Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon had released a dead fish into a pond during a visit to a fish farm on Monday.

But he has taken to Facebook to quash these rumours by explaining that the fish was indeed very much alive - it was just sedated.

In a Facebook post on Jan 19, Dr Koh wrote about his visit to local fish farm Marine Life Aquaculture where the incident happened. He also uploaded photographs of himself at the farm, one of which showed him holding the 10kg seabass.

A 15-second video clip was posted online following the visit which took place the day before. In the clip, Dr Koh is seen releasing the fish into the pond after a resounding "Huat ah!" from those around him.

But what caught the eye of netizens was the fish seemingly sinking belly up to the bottom of the pond after it was released.

Many comments poured in and Dr Koh and the fish farm owner himself took to Facebook to explain that the fish was not dead, but instead sedated with food-grade clove oil.

Sedating these big fish this way is done every month to check for individual spawning readiness, explained the farmer Mr Frank Tan in a post. The fish usually wake up within 20 to 25 minutes and the practice is the most "humane way" to handle them as it does not cause them any harm, he added.

Dr Koh posted in a comments thread: "It's anesthetized so the farmer can inspect it and it will not struggle or get hurt."

During Dr Koh's visit to several fish farms on Monday, he said that 77 coastal farms were affected by last year's algae bloom between Feb and March, causing losses amounting to millions of dollars, according to media reports. One farmer's loss reportedly hit $1.3 million.

Of the total number of farms affected, 63 received assistance from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore.

According to The Straits Times, Dr Koh said that algae blooms could happen again, especially due to factors such as global warming and changes in water temperature.

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