Local farm to produce smoked fish to diversify income source

Tie-up with seafood manufacturer comes in wake of 2015 algae bloom
Carolyn Khew Straits Times 30 Mar 16;

Local fish farm Ah Hua Kelong will be producing smoked fish following last year's disastrous algae bloom, which killed 100 tonnes of its stock.

One reason: Fish to be smoked need not be as big as those meant for restaurants and so can be harvested earlier. This means the fish spend less time in the water and are at a lower risk of exposure to an algae bloom.

The farm will sell its smoked sea bass at its outlet - PasarBella in Turf Club Road - soon.

Ah Hua Kelong is believed to be the first to roll out locally farmed smoked fish. This is in a tie-up with local seafood manufacturer Fassler Gourmet.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) - which facilitated the tie-up last November - said that it is exploring this option with other fish farmers.

Mr Teh Aik Hua, owner of Ah Hua Kelong, said that, besides quicker harvests, the smoked fish business will also lower reliance on the fresh fish market as the farm's source of income.

Ah Hua Kelong, set up in 2006, runs two coastal farms - in Sembawang and Changi - and produces 50 to 80 tonnes of fish yearly.

Explaining the quicker harvests, Mr Teh said that fish to be smoked can be harvested and filleted when they are about 1kg, which is about one year after they arrive at the farm as fry.

However, the fish have to grow to at least 3kg - which takes 11/2 years more - before restaurants want to buy them as fish fillet.

Hence restaurant fish are at higher risk of algae blooms, which are unpredictable.

An AVA spokesman said that smoked fish will help to open new markets for the farmers.

Mr Teh pointed out that fish farmers in Singapore have to compete with imports from Malaysia, which are often cheaper due to lower manpower costs and a weaker currency.

Venturing into such products would thus help to diversify the farms' income source.

Last year's algae bloom - between February and March - wiped out more than 500 tonnes of fish from more than 70 farms.

It was the second bloom in two years, the previous one being in 2014.

Factors such as the dry weather and an excess of nutrients in the water can lead to an algae bloom.

While not all algae are harmful, some can suffocate fish, or cause gill damage - as was the case last year.

After last year's incident, some farms put in contingency plans.

These plans include transferring fish from open-net cages to canvas bags equipped with aerators and oxygen pumps, to prevent exposure, in case of an algae bloom.

Blue Ocean Harvest, for instance, has a mechanised system which can quickly deploy canvas bags to contain fishes from the open-net cage.

In Ah Hua Kelong's new venture, the farm will fillet the fish and send it to Fassler Gourmet, which will smoke it in its facility using beechwood log.

Ah Hua Kelong's smoked fish will come vacuum-packed and have a shelf life of six months.

It will be sold in two flavours - chilli crab and teriyaki - at $15 per packet.

The chief executive officer of Fassler Gourmet, Ms Mellissa Chen, said: "Ultimately, it's about helping the industry in Singapore.

"It's meaningful to collaborate with local farms as we understand the challenges they face. "