Fresh from the sea to the doorstep

Cheryl Faith Wee The Straits Times AsiaOne 26 Oct 14;

Instead of jostling in a wet market or going to the supermarket, some people are getting the daily catch sent to their homes.

Several coastal fish farms here have started or are starting home deliveries of seafood to cash in on demand and keep abreast of rivals from Malaysia.

Ah Hua Kelong, off Lorong Halus in the north-east coast, introduced the service in April this year; a group of nine other coastal fish farms plan to launch an online store offering home deliveries by next March.

These new services are partly to help the Singapore farms compete against Malaysian peers, which can sell seafood cheaper to Singapore wholesalers as they have lower operational costs.

Industry players say farms in Malaysia can sell their seafood at wholesale prices several dollars lower per kg than local farms.

Ah Hua Kelong business development manager Wong Jing Kai, 25, said: "Highly price-sensitive intermediaries and restaurants expect the same prices from us."

Home deliveries also help the kelong diversify income sources.

Said its creative and marketing manager, Mr Bryan Ang, 25: "In the past, we relied heavily on exports. A big ship from Hong Kong would berth at our farm and buy almost everything we had annually. However, in 2014, this ship did not arrive... We realised we needed more distribution channels."

According to the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore, there are 116 local coastal fish farms and 6,775 tonnes of seafood were produced here last year. Seafood from elsewhere make up a big part of the supply here, with 140,348 tonnes imported last year.

At Ah Hua Kelong, orders have nearly doubled over the last six months for its home deliveries, placed online or over the phone.

Flower crabs, mussels and four main types of fish, including sea bass and golden pomfret, are delivered within 12 hours of their being harvested. Delivery is free, except for orders below $40, which incur $8 for the trip.

Prices go from $10 to $20 per fish, about 600g in size on average. Live mussels cost $8 per kg, while live flower crabs cost $30 per kg. The prices can sometimes be around 40 per cent higher than those found in markets.

For example, a 600g golden pomfret costs $6.30 from a FairPrice outlet and $6 from a wet market in Toa Payoh. Ah Hua Kelong sells it at $10.

But some are willing to pay more for convenience and freshness. Said Mr Ivan Aw, 40, a vice-president at a local bank: "When I go to wet markets, I am likely to rush into buying something because everyone is crowding around and jostling. When I shop online for the fish, there is no hassle."

Ms Celine Tee, a headhunter in her late 30s, described the seafood she had bought from Ah Hua Kelong as "very sweet" and fresh.

"There is also that personal touch because they tell you how to keep the seafood fresh and give suggestions on how to prepare it. It is kind of like how mothers form relationships with wet-market sellers," she added.

Besides Ah Hua Kelong and the nine farms, others have expressed interest in home deliveries.

Metropolitan Fishery Group, which runs four coastal fish farms, has had queries on home delivery every month, from one to two for the whole of last year.

Mr Malcolm Ong, 51, who runs the group, said: "We are not really distributors, we are farmers.

"Right now we are focused on our core business, but we are considering having an online store, possibly not too far in the future."

Read more!

More opting for fuss-free burial at sea

Audrey Tan The Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Oct 14;

He has spent more than three decades of his life navigating the sea and, when the time comes, Mr Ong Kai Cheng, 63, hopes he can do the same in death.

The Buddhist bumboat operator has instructed his three children to release his ashes into the sea after he dies.

"I do not wish to trouble my children by making them pray to me after my death," he said in Mandarin.

Mr Ong's sentiments are echoed by a growing number of individuals whose last wishes are to have their ashes scattered at sea, rather than having them stored in niches at columbaria.

Undertakers here have seen an increase in the number of sea burial requests, with the majority coming from Buddhists and Hindus.

Singapore Casket, for example, oversees more than 20 sea burials a month, compared with fewer than 10 five years ago.

At Serenity Casket, for every 50 funerals, about five to eight are sea burials. This, said its funeral director Elson Chong, is more than the two to four the parlour conducted five years ago.

The bumboat operator, Mr Ong, is also taking more people out to sea to scatter the ashes of their loved ones: from once or twice annually 10 years ago to the current minimum of four a month.

The growing popularity of sea burials is due to a number of reasons, funeral directors told The Straits Times.

The main concern is to not burden their offspring or family members during the annual Qing Ming Festival, said Mr Nicky Teo, director of Funeral Solutions. During the festival, Chinese families pay their respects to their departed loved ones at the cemetery or columbarium.

Others opt to have their ashes scattered at sea so that their descendants have more freedom in where they can pay their respects.

Said Mr Roland Tay of Direct Funeral Services: "Some people have children who live abroad, so by scattering the ashes at sea, they believe the future generations can complete their prayers any time, anywhere."

Some people also wish to "travel" the world in the afterlife, and sea burials meet that desire, said Singapore Casket chief executive Goh Wee Leng.

Sea burials are cheaper compared to storing ashes in a columbarium, but undertakers pointed out that this is usually not a determining factor for those who choose sea burials.

The scattering of ashes can cost from $80 to more than $1,000, depending on the religious rites.

This compares to the minimum $1,180 for keeping one's ashes in a niche at a columbarium. Depending on where the niche is located at the columbarium, and whether there is air-conditioning, the cost could go up to $100,000.

In Singapore, the scattering of small amounts of ash can be done at a designated site located about 2.8km south of Pulau Semakau, off southern Singapore, according to information on the National Environment Agency's website.

The Straits Times understands that ashes are also scattered in open waters off Changi. No permits are needed for sea burials.

Typically, the rite is performed by a monk or priest with props including flowers or bread crumbs, umbrellas and plastic trays. These items are usually released into the sea along with the ashes, held in white or red cloth, after a short prayer session.

Recently, a biodegradable urn for storing ashes was introduced here, a result of growing environmental consciousness among the young. Made of recycled paper, the urn slowly disintegrates when placed in water.

But the urn has yet to take off, said Funeral Solutions' Mr Teo.

"Some family members feel that it is not good to keep the ashes 'trapped' in a vessel," he said.

"But I would advise them not to throw out items that can pollute the waters, such as food offerings, joss sticks and incense paper."

For Mr Ong, his preference for sea burial goes beyond practical reasons.

"My children grew up on my earnings from the sea, so, of course, I would hope to make it my final resting place," he said.

Read more!

MHA will not expand definition of animals under Road Traffic Act

Today Online 29 Oct 14;

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is standing by its decision to not expand the definition of “animals” under the Road Traffic Act (RTA), despite objections from animal welfare groups.

In response to media queries, the MHA said today (Oct 29) that it agreed with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) that all animals should be protected.

The two groups had earlier appealed to the MHA to reconsider its decision not to proceed with any amendments to the Act.

Currently, drivers who hit animals listed in the Act — such as a dog, horse, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or cattle — are required to stop and help them. Failure to do so may result in a fine of up to S$3,000 or a jail term of up to a year. However, the Act is silent on other animals such as cats, monkeys, birds and rabbits.

The MHA noted that the Act’s “primary intent” is to ensure the safety of the roads, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.

“The specific provision for ‘animals’ in the RTA was confined to farm animals of commercial value so as to ensure restitution to their owners should an accident occur,” it said.

“MHA has studied this provision on animals in the RTA very carefully and decided not to expand the definition. Nonetheless, we encourage all motorists who hit animals on the road to stop and provide help when it is safe to do so. The motorist should then contact the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) or SPCA for assistance,” the ministry added.

Read more!

Malaysia: Caviar farm won’t harm environment, says Felda

New Straits Times 30 Oct 14;

KUALA LUMPUR: The proposed sturgeon farm and caviar production project in Kuala Tahan, Pahang, will not be harmful to the environment.

This assurance came from the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda), which said strict measures would be in place to ensure the project satisfied the necessary legal requirements.

Felda strategic resources deputy director-general Muhammad Sufi Mahbub said the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the project was being conducted and the report was expected to be ready in four months.

“If the EIA report found that the area is not suitable, we may find an alternative location.”

Sufi said the 50ha Caviar Park to be located in Kuala Tahan would rear Siberian Sturgeon, Amur Sturgeon, Sterlet Sturgeon and Bester Sturgeon via an aqua-farming technology from South Korea.

“The fish survives mainly on Spirulina and it is not a predator.”

Sufi said the main complex would have breeding ponds with a temperature of 16°C and below, which is suitable for the fish to lay eggs.

“The land given by the state government is 100m above sea level. The ponds will be built at 95m above sea level to avoid flooding.”

He said pending approval from the Felda board of directors, satellite farms would be set up in Felda settlements under its Sentuhan Kasih project to raise the Sturgeon fry until it reached egg-laying age of between 3 and 4 years. It will then be transported to the main complex.

On a related matter, Sufi said only 60 per cent of logging activities would be carried out on the
50ha site. Each tree felled will be compensated to the Pahang

Department of Fisheries Malaysia aquaculture development division director Dr Mazuki Hashim said although sturgeon was listed on the Prohibited Fish Species For Import Into Malaysia, the department had carried out an Import Risk Analysis.

“We take into consideration the risks of disease and risks to the environment.”

He said currently, there was no decision from the government to allow imports of the fish until they were satisfied with the system to be adopted by Felda for the project.

Read more!

Malaysia: Government to have Taman Negara listed as world heritage site

ISKANDAR TAJUDDIN New Straits Times 29 Oct 14;

JERANTUT: The government will intensify its effort to have Taman Negara listed as world heritage site under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), said Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Sri Dr James Dawos Mamit.

He said the government had already submitted the application to Unesco for the listing of Taman Negara - which comprises the world's oldest tropical jungle in Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan - as one of the world's heritage site.

At the same time, he said various agencies and institutions had also conducted researches that could help support Malaysia's effort to get Taman Negara listed.

"We will ensure that Taman Negara fulfil all the requirements that will enable it to be included in the list," he said adding that Taman Negara is also a leading eco-tourism product in the region.

On the protection of Taman Negara from encroachment, he said 13 foreigners were arrested in the protected area.

He said special operations in Taman Negara, previously known as Ops Jelai, have now codenamed as 1Malaysia Biodiversity Enforcement Network (1MBEON).

"The 13 foreigners were arrested during five 1MBEON operations held from February this year. Since 2002, we have arrested 152 foreigners who encroached Taman Negara," he said when officially launched the 1MBEON at Kuala Tahan near here today.

He said 1MBEON involved the cooperation between the Wildlife and National Parks Department man Negara and the Armed Forces.

Read more!

Indonesia: Environmental degradation triggers drought -- Walhi

Antara 29 Oct 14;

Kupang (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian Forum for Environment (Walhi) of East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) explained that drought occurs almost throughout the country, especially in NTT, as a result of environmental degradation of the buffer zone.

"For that, there must be willingness from both the government and all elements, including the people of this region, to reevaluate the area of forests acting as a buffer zone," Director of Walhi NTT Heribertus Naif noted here on Wednesday.

He elucidated that the current drought impact, apart from the effect of the El Nino weather phenomenon, coupled with the declining quality of the buffer zone, are affecting the ecological unity.

He noted that the drought that occurred almost evenly throughout the country, including in NTT, was a proof of environmental degradation due to the increasingly deteriorating quality of the buffer zone.

The condition, exacerbated by global warming, was felt across the planet.

"Human life with the development of technology has contributed to global warming," he pointed out.

In the local context, the government and all stakeholders, including the community, must come together to undertake steps for saving the existing environment.

According to Heribertus, through adaptation and mitigation efforts, the NTT provincial government should take steps to monitor and evaluate the condition of forests in this area, to find out the real on-field conditions.

"What is still improving or getting worse and needs treatment quickly," he affirmed.

Furthermore, the government of NTT and districts or cities, need to conduct a thorough evaluation of the existing natural resource management models, to check whether they are oriented towards ecological justice or merely for catering to vested market interests, while overlooking the environmental quality standards.

He was also hopeful that the government will implement processes to save the forests through ecological restoration efforts, which are in harmony with nature.

"It means that the process was carried out to create more green spaces and planting trees to increase the ground water level rather than growing trees for commercial gains such as Sengon, Mahoni, and a type of Ampupu. It should be noted that trees planted in the upstream region help to increase the level of ground water," Heribertus noted.

Heribertus emphasized that community participation is also crucial and should be driven by the cosmocentric pattern that imbibes local wisdom and focuses on the preservation of nature by the public.

"Nature should be the focus of attention. We should not be homo-centric, considering objects of nature to be irritants that we wish to forget," he remarked.

He said that Walhi hoped for cooperation across sectors in order to make the forest a source of life, in the context of governance and ecology, so that they can jointly maintain and preserve it.

"Not only for the sake of profits by implementing the concept of the forestry industry," he added.

(Reported by Yohanes Adrianus/Uu.INE/KR-BSR/O001)

Read more!

New study raises alarm over bear bile farming in Lao PDR

TRAFFIC 29 Oct 14;

Cambridge, UK, 29th October 2014—The number of bears in farms supplying the widespread and expanding bile extraction industry in Lao PDR has tripled in recent years, with strong evidence the animals are illegally sourced from the wild, a new study published in Oryx finds.

According to credible records, the number of captive bears in the farms increased from around 40 in 2008 to 122 animals by 2012. There was no evidence of breeding facilities at any of the locations. The study also documented an increase in the number of bear farms in Lao PDR, with the first appearing in 2000 and the number rising to 11 by 2012.

The lack of bear breeding facilities, together with an absence of paperwork to show legal procurement of the bears led to the conclusion that bear farms in Lao PDR are acquiring and keeping bears illegally, with some facility owners even admitting as much to the report’s authors, independent researcher, Emily Livingstone and TRAFFIC’s Chris R. Shepherd.

The increase in bile farms and number of captive bears coincides with a rapid increase in the price for wild sourced bear bile and bear cubs, say the authors.

According to their study, Bear farms in Lao PDR expand illegally and fail to conserve wild bears, if allowed to continue, “…this industry is likely to contribute to the decline of national wild bear populations by further stimulating the market for wild bear bile and increasing the incentive to poach wild bears.”

The hunting, capture and possession of wild bears and the removal and trade in their bile and other parts is illegal under national legislation, while international trade in wild bears and their parts for commercial purposes is prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Lao’s Wildlife and Aquatic Law, 2007 allows trade in second generation captive-bred bears and parts thereof within the country, but poor monitoring and record keeping of bears in bile extraction facilities allows this provision to be used as a loophole by farmers hiding the illegality of their operations.

The study highlights the discovery that most, if not all, facilities illegally acquire live bears and trade in bile and other parts. The low likelihood of being punished, together with the high potential for profit making and rising market prices for bear parts have all encouraged the poaching of wild animals, according to the study.

The study recommends the closure of all illegal bile extraction facilities in Lao PDR and closer co-operation with the main bear bile consumer countries to halt smuggling, echoing a motion passed at the 2012 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Korea that encouraged range State governments to close down illegal farms as soon as possible and to take increased measures to ensure that no more bears from the wild enter farms. The Congress also recommended that “Parties to CITES fully implement legislation to prevent illegal international trade in Asiatic Black Bears and Sun Bears and their parts and derivatives, and promote greater public awareness of these issues.”

“The open and ongoing bear bile trade involving Lao PDR clearly illustrates the failure of the Laotian and other governments in the region to comply with and enforce the rules of CITES,” said Dr Chris R Shepherd, Regional Director of TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia.

Currently, few countries even have adequate CITES legislation in place, which seriously undermines the effectiveness of the Convention.

“The Government of Lao PDR needs to lead the way in ending the illegal bear bile trade through effective implementation and enforcement of CITES regulations and national legislation,” said Shepherd.

The Abstract of Bear farms in Lao PDR expand illegally and fail to conserve wild bears is available at:

Read more!