Fish farmers unite to be heard

Group of 38 banking on numbers to bring down costs, raise industry issues to govt
Jessica Lim Straits Times 25 Nov 11;

CLOSE to 40 fish farmers have banded together to form the Fish Farmers Association of Singapore.

Such an association, said its president Timothy Ng - who owns a fish farm off Pulau Ubin - will help to represent the interests of fish farmers, especially the smaller ones.

'If we have the numbers, then it would be easier to have a dialogue with the Government to see how some problems can be looked at and resolved,' said the former deputy commissioner of the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore.

Fish farmers, Mr Ng said, struggle with various issues like the lack of technical know-how when it comes to controlling fish mortality rate, bad water quality and finding cheap sources of feed and fish fry. He said the association is also looking to buy fish fry and feed in bulk to bring down costs, adding: 'Having an association also means that the Government just has to deal with a representative, as opposed to many individuals.'

The association might just have the muscle to do this: it has 38 members, all local fish farmers, up from just eight when it was formally registered in May. The group has met the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) once already, to discuss various issues.

Committee members - made up of eight founding members - meet at least once a month. Membership fees are $38 a year, but more funding may be needed if a big project comes up.

Recently, another group of fish farmers - who had formed the Singapore Marine Aquaculture Cooperative - came under probe by the Government following feedback on its governance issues.

There are 119 coastal fish farms in Singapore, which produce 7 per cent of the fish consumed locally. This is up from 4.5 per cent in 2009. The AVA wants to raise it to 15 per cent eventually.

Singapore imports 90 per cent of its food, so producing more fish at home will help protect it from disruptions in global food supply and escalating prices.

The AVA said it encourages the farming industry to work closely. 'The sharing of technology and good farming practices among the farms will also enhance their productivity,' said its spokesman.

In the meantime, members of the new association like Mr Simon Ho, 62, who owns a 30-netcage fish farm in Pasir Ris, hope it can help solve the problems he and other farmers face.

Mr Ho, who rears fish like tiger grouper, said it is not uncommon for at least half of the 4,000 fish fry he buys monthly to die within a week. 'Sometimes all of them die. When they get to Singapore, they just get sick,' he said, adding that the association plans to speak to the authorities about this.

The problem, he said, could be due to issues at the hatcheries overseas, or with waters in Singapore.