AVA rolls out new plan to boost Singapore's sustainable food fish production

AVA rolls out new plan to boost Singapore's sustainable food fish production
A box of fresh fish is unloaded during the official opening of Lorong Halus Jetty at 50 Pasir Ris Coast Industrial Park 6 on 24 July 2014. To boost Singapore's sustainable food fish production, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) is coming up with good-agricultural-practice guidelines for fish farms.

SINGAPORE - To boost Singapore's sustainable food fish production, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) is coming up with good-aquaculture-practice guidelines for fish farms. 


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Speech by MOS Maliki at the Opening of Lorong Halus Jetty

Good afternoon. It is indeed my pleasure to be here today at the opening of the Lorong Halus jetty.

Role of local production in food security

As you know, Singapore imports more than 90% of our food. To ensure our food supply resilience, our key strategy is to diversify our food import sources as much as we can.

In addition, to supplement our import sources, we must build our local food production capacity, especially when there are supply disruptions and export bans by source countries from time to time.

In 2013, Singaporeans consumed about 54,000 tonnes of live and chilled fish, of which more than 90% were imported from 46 countries. Our local fish production of over 4,200 tonnes caters to the remaining 8% of our total fish consumption. The Government is doing our part to help our fish farmers improve their yields. Since the inception of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority's (AVA) Food Fund in 2009, about $8.2 million has been committed to fish farmers to upgrade their farm capabilities and conduct R&D projects.

Metropolitan Fishery Group (MFG) for example, a local fish farm, is one of the beneficiaries. MFG received about $570,000 for investments in solar powered aerators and water monitoring systems to enhance its operations. The investment paid off as the farm was not adversely affected by the mass fish deaths earlier this year.

Development of Lorong Halus jetty

Beyond the Food Fund, AVA has also invested $3.85 million in this new Lorong Halus jetty to support the fish farming industry. Currently, 63 of our 117 coastal fish farms operate in the eastern Straits of Johor, with Changi Creek and Senoko Fishery Port as the only two approved landing points. Many fish farmers have given feedback to AVA that Changi Creek is not suitable as they have to hoist their fish and supplies over a steep sea wall to and from their vessels. In addition, a ladder is needed to embark and disembark from the vessels, and there are also no proper mooring facilities.

Senoko Fishery Port is likewise not ideal, as farmers will have to travel about 15 km or 45 minutes from their farms to reach the port. The longer distance adds to the farms' operational cost, although the port has facilities for mooring, loading and unloading.

I understand that since 2011, AVA has worked with fish farmers and the relevant agencies to identify a new landing facility that is close to the fish farming zones in the eastern Johor Straits. Several fish farmers were involved in the design of this new jetty at Lorong Halus, including the layout and types of facilities required. Compared to the Changi Creek landing point, this new jetty will be easier and safer to load and unload goods. It has a higher mooring capacity, enabling up to 28 boats to be berthed at the same time. Besides these facilities, there is also a waste collection centre to help farmers dispose of fish waste properly.

I am pleased to announce that AVA will allow fish farmers to use the new Lorong Halus jetty without any fees during the first 3 months of operation. This will give our fish farmers ample time to make adjustments with their suppliers of farm materials or their buyers. During the 3-month period, our AVA officers will monitor the usage of the jetty by farmers and gather their feedback to further improve jetty operations. I hope our farmers will make good use of this new jetty.

Assistance to affected farmers

The Government is committed to grow the local fish farming industry. Hence, when the massive fish deaths occurred in February this year, with losses of about 500 tonnes of fish, I told AVA that we had to do something to help the affected farmers. Let me now provide a brief update on AVA's assistance package to-date.

First, to assist affected farmers re-stock their farms and restart operations; AVA has devised an assistance package toco-fund 70% of the cost of restocking their farms with fry, and 70% of the purchase of equipment to deal with similar incidents in the future. As of today, almost all of the affected farms have taken up AVA's assistance package, and more than 90% are in the process of restocking their farms. Close to 40 fish farms have been successful in their applications to upgrade their farming equipment to include water treatment systems, air blowers, aerators, oxygen generators and water quality monitoring systems.

AVA's funding support was originally scheduled to end in August this year. However, as some fish farmers have requested for more time to purchase fry and equipment, AVA has extended its funding support till December 2014. We hope this will help our farmers resume normal production levels by early next year.

Second, AVA has stepped up its monitoring of real-time water quality around the fish farming areas as part of its routine surveillance. AVA has installed continuous online water quality monitoring systems at some of the fish farms. In the event of impending poor water conditions, AVA will send alerts through phone calls and text messages to fish farmers so that they can take the necessary precautions to safeguard their fish stocks.

The industry can also do its part in this early warning mechanism. I hope our farmers will look out for one another by notifying AVA of observations of unusual fish behaviour or water conditions. This will alert all fish farmers early, and help all to cope better with any future incidents.

Third, I am pleased to share that AVA has received $1.25 million from the Co-Innovation Partnership (or CI Partnership) to develop a more sustainable sea-based farming system. The CI Partnership encourages companies to co-develop innovative solutions with the Government. With this funding, AVA will work with the fish farms and related companies to develop a closed containment aquaculture system. Such a system in a coastal environment can, among others, help our fish farms mitigate against adverse environmental conditions. AVA will be requesting for proposals by end August 2014.

Adopting technology and automation

Given the challenges faced by our farmers, I would like to encourage our fish farmers to embrace technology, automation and upgrading of their farming systems. Last month, I visited the Netherlands and Denmark together with MND, AVA and representatives from our food fish farming and vegetable farming industry to learn about Dutch and Danish food security approaches and initiatives. Through the extensive use of technology and automation, both Dutch and Danish farmers are able to adopt innovative and creative solutions for their farms to maximise productivity while guarding against environmental challenges.

For example, we visited two land-based fish farms which use Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) for fish culture in controlled indoor environments. This means that the farms are able to grow fish on limited land and water supply, and are protected against adverse environmental conditions. Although there are higher initial investments in their systems and machinery, the farms there are reaping the benefits of higher productivity and manpower efficiencies in the longer term. In some of these farms, we saw only one, at most two, workers operating the farms.

Adopting good farming practices

Besides dealing with environmental challenges, I believe that it is equally important for farmers to adopt good farming practices as part of efforts to improve farm productivity and ensure good quality and safe products for consumers. AVA will be launching the Good Aquaculture Practices or GAP scheme, which is a set of guidelines to help farms improve in key areas such as farm infrastructure management, farm husbandry, fish health management and farm environment management. AVA will share more details on the GAP scheme in early September.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I urge all of you to continuously raise farm productivity and build up your farming capabilities and resilience. To this end, AVA will work closely with you, and will render support, be it funding incentives or provision of basic infrastructure.

On this note, I am pleased to declare the new Lorong Halus jetty open.

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