Best of our wild blogs: 27 Oct 14

Barn Owl (Tyto alba) @ Sungei Buloh
from Monday Morgue

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Fish farmers not keen on waste collection services

SIAU MING EN Today Online 27 Oct 14;

SINGAPORE — As the island’s shores continue to be plagued by coastal trash, some environmentalists have singled out offshore fish farms as one of the culprits, with nature enthusiast Ria Tan, who runs the website WildSingapore, suggesting daily waste collection services for the farms.

However, fish farmers whom TODAY spoke to were lukewarm about the idea, pointing out that they would incur additional cost. Pointing a finger further north to farms along the Malaysian coastline, the Singapore farmers said they had been disposing of their trash properly.

Currently, the Republic’s fish farmers along the western Johor Straits can dispose of their rubbish at waste collection points at Lim Chu Kang jetty, while those along the eastern Johor Straits can do so at the waste collection centre at the new Lorong Halus jetty, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said.

In October last year, the AVA had explored the option of weekly waste collection services for fish farmers along the eastern Johor Straits and estimated that the farmers would have to pay S$160 a month for the services.

In response to queries, an AVA spokesperson said the authority was mindful that such services would increase operational costs for farmers. “Nonetheless, the AVA will continue to consult farmers on the current waste disposal arrangements and need for door-to-door waste collection services on a regular basis,” the spokesperson said.

Ms Tan has written on her website about items — blue drums, green netting, tyres and sofas, among other things — that she has found on Pulau Ubin, which seemed to have come from the fish farms opposite the island. “Yes, there are many sources of marine trash, but ... that does not mean we should not provide trash collection services for businesses that are licensed by the government and supported by tax funds,” she told TODAY.

She questioned why farmers were not provided daily door-to-door trash collection services like households, businesses and ships docked at ports.

But fish farmers here are not keen on paying for such services. On Ms Tan’s suggestion, Mr Phillip Lim, former chairman of the now-defunct Singapore Marine Aquaculture Cooperative, said: “Unless it’s free of charge ... (otherwise) if you want to charge us, it’s an (added) burden to the farmer.”

Farmers also noted that at times, waves created by high-speed vessels could cause bulky items such as blue drums and pieces of wood to be washed away from the farms. “They think it’s trash, (but) these are our expenditure too,” said Mr Lim, who noted that each blue drum could cost up to S$20.

“Normally, our waste, we would carry to the shore and throw into the National Parks Board rubbish (bins). There’s no issue … we are educated, responsible people,” he added

Most of the farmers whom TODAY spoke to said they dispose of their waste in these bins between every two days and once a week.

Mr Teh Aik Hua, who owns two fish farms in Sembawang and Pasir Ris, said a lot of the trash came from Malaysia, including items such as sofas, palm oil and plastic bags. Agreeing, Mr Joseph Wee, owner of Blue Marine Fish Farm off Changi Point, nevertheless suggested that the authorities encourage fish farmers to recycle or reuse their trash. For example, they could place unwanted tyres on the seabed to create artificial reefs.

Mr N Sivasothi, lead coordinator of International Coastal Cleanup, Singapore, noted that while it was difficult to determine the proportion of trash that Singapore fish farms contribute, some of the litter found on the southern coastlines of Pulau Ubin, in particular, can be traced to the fish farms opposite. Not much trash from the Johor farms will end up there because of the geography of the island. “We cannot escape (from the fact) that the (Singapore) farms (along the eastern Johor Straits) definitely have a significant contribution to (the) trash,” he said.

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An animal's life is still a life

Rachel Au-yong The Straits Times AsiaOne 27 Oct 14;

He is known for tending to consumer protection, when he was Case president, and foreign labour issues as Migrant Workers' Centre chairman.

But now, it's animals.

Veteran backbench MP Yeo Guat Kwang (Ang Mo Kio GRC) has proposed an amendment to the Animals and Birds Act - one of two Private Member's Bills to be introduced next month. He himself does not own a pet. However, the animal lover tells Rachel Au-Yong about giving a voice to the voiceless.

You've never really been known as a big animal rights supporter. How did you end up working on this Bill?

Back in 2012, there was a lot of attention on animal welfare issues, because there were a number of cases in the media. During one Government Parliamentary Committee meeting, Minister (for National Development) Khaw (Boon Wan) said it might be time to look at this.

So when he approached me to chair the Animal Welfare Legislation Review Committee (AWLRC), I said okay, because then I can go about trying to get things done. I don't believe in "barking". Because you can bark till the cows come home, and still nothing gets done.

It's more effective to spend that time talking to people who can help me bring about change. Although I can't keep pets, I love animals. Don't you think they are cute?

I find it unacceptable to see people not just performing cruel acts, but even just not taking responsible care, because an animal's life is still a life.

So why a Private Member's Bill? (Mr Yeo's amendment is supported by four other MPs - Mr Alex Yam, Mr Gan Thiam Poh, Mr Vikram Nair and Mr Edwin Tong.) Why not pass your findings to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA)?

Through the process, I became more convinced that animal welfare was a shared responsibility and that everyone needed to play their part. You can't just rely on enforcement.

After the review committee looked at where the gaps in the Act were, we formed another committee, the Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration Committee. We also had many public consultations.

We wanted to see how everybody could play their part and make Singapore a lovely place for everyone, including animals.

Tell me what the amendment is about.

We had about 24 recommendations in total, six of which are going into the Bill.

We have heavier penalties for animal welfare and cruelty offences, in particular for those committed by animal-related businesses and repeat offenders.

Extreme people should get extreme penalties. That's why we have tiered penalties, so we can take the culprit to task. But do we just want deterrence? Or is the desired outcome that everyone knows what the right way to treat animals is?

We realised we still needed to define "responsible care", or it'd be up to the authorities to do so. But that meant we spent more time working on that.

So the amendment took longer than expected?

After a year of studying and reviewing the Act, I told the press in March last year that I would be able to put up a proposal for an amendment to the Bill in about six months.

But as we looked at the gaps in the law, we thought we might as well do something more comprehensive. That way, we don't just go after someone who does wrong, but also help everyone to do the right thing.

So we came up with a code of animal welfare. Luckily, some countries already have this, so we could take it and shape it according to Singapore's context.

But the whole journey still took 2½ years!

Why did setting up guidelines about how to treat animals take so long?

First, we had to define what the basic things in taking care of an animal were. So, for example, sufficient space and drinking water. Then some people asked which animals would drinking water extend to, and whether birds would be included.

This led to a discussion about whether we would also need to provide bathing water as a minimum standard, because some birds clean themselves.

But then other people raised the point: What if you put such a huge cup of water for a bird to bathe, that it ends up drowning?

In the end, we decided that drinking water was important but bathing water was not a necessity. Now the welfare code has two parts: a minimum standard, and a higher-level, "good practices" one.

For those who aren't treating animals well, the AVA can use the code and tell them specifically how to do better. But for those who can aim higher, they can look to the "good practices" part.

Maybe one day our high standard will become a minimum one. But for now, we must take one step at a time.

You had meetings with a diverse group, including animal rights activists, business owners, government officials and members of the community. What did you learn from this process?

A lot of it was about balance. Those who love animals must see how they can balance the concerns of their neighbours, who might not be comfortable with animals in their living environment.

So we had all these different people come together.

For example, some challenged those who were asking for very harsh penalties, "You want to make the penalty for treating an animal cruelly higher than that for ill-treating a person?"

We were reminded that we can't just look at other countries' harsh punishments, but must also look at what Singapore's punishments for offences against people are like. It was part of the balancing process.

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