Malaysia: Artificial method to help cockles spawn

TAN SIN CHOW The Star 16 Aug 16;

GEORGE TOWN: Malaysia should attempt artificial spawning to address the dwindling number of cockles, said marine biologist Associate Prof Dr Aileen Tan.

Dr Tan, from Universiti Sains Malay­sia (USM), said this had been done successfully before at the university which also has the skills for the task. They would collect cockles from areas where there used to be abundant molluscs.

“We will do a strain selection by picking the ‘hardy’ ones; those with stronger genes among the pool of cockles. It is like carrying out an In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) to produce offsprings to be used for our aquaculture. Those selected will be used as brood stock and we want to multiply the numbers before releasing them to the habitat.

“These are the ones that can withstand the pollutants, stress in the environment or diseases. These strains will be able to tolerate most environmental pressures and most suitable to be farmed,” she said.

This was among the proposals that emerged at the World Congress of Malacology held here last month.

Attended by 300 scientists from 41 countries, the event was orga­nised by the Brussels-based Unitas Malacologica Society,

Dr Tan is Unitas Malacologica’s past president (2013 to 2016) and the first woman president in the 54-year-old society.

In May, The Star reported that the multi-million ringgit Malaysian cockle breeding industry was on the brink with just 16,000 tonnes harvested last year.

At its peak in 2010, Malaysia produced 80,000 tonnes of cockles for local consumption and export.

Asked about the dwindling numbers, Dr Tan said various external factors were suspected including pollution and habitat degradation.

The drastic drop in molluscs was seen in many other countries like Canada and United States.

“We feel it more because it contributes to the country’s economy,” she said.

Dr Tan said another method to stop the decline was to use the “off-bottom culturing method”, similar to that of farming oysters using wooden platforms that float in the sea without touching the seabed.

“We have done it for clams and I feel it can be done for cockles too. But we need to invest in the wooden platforms to keep the industry sustainable,” she said.

At present, she said cockles were usually cultured on the seabed which exposed them to pollutants.

Dr Tan also said Malaysians could opt for clams as replacements in dis­hes like curry mee or char kuay teow.

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