FISH farming might seem unattractive to most young people, but in the case of 26-year-olds Wong Jing Kai and Bryan Ang, their youth has been a plus.
Last April, the two friends from national service went into partnership with Mr Teh Aik Hua, 60, who owns Ah Hua Kelong.
The farm rears golden pomfret, seabass and pearl groupers, along with mussels and crabs.
The recent plankton bloom wiped out 80 per cent of their entire stock at their farm just five minutes away from Lorong Halus on the north-east coast near Pasir Ris.
The remaining 20 per cent was saved after being moved to their farm in Sembawang.
But they still needed help.
So, the Internet-savvy new partners turned to online crowdsourcing and raised over US$12,000 (S$16,500) through the Indiegogo website.
The money, they said, was needed to help them cover their operating costs.
"We are thankful to those who have supported us, it would have been much tougher without them," said Mr Wong.
They also plan to downsize the Pasir Ris farm and expand their Sembawang farm, which was unaffected by the bloom.
They estimate it will take them at least nine months to get their business back on track and, even then, they may never be able to recover everything.
However, they remain optimistic.
They believe their business model which includes delivering the produce straight to households - a plan which the two new partners came up with - is one that will work. Said Mr Ang: "Seafood is something that most Singaporeans really like."
Pinning hopes on relocation
WHEN 40-year-old Frank Tan first saw signs, in the middle of last month, that a plankton bloom was coming, he tried to save his adult fish by moving them to inland tanks on Pulau Ketam, just opposite his Changi farm.
"I wanted to get three boats to tow our floating net cages, but that didn't work out," said Mr Tan. "The tides and wind were too strong."
The owner of Marine Life Aquaculture ended up losing 120 tonnes of fish in total - the bulk of his stock. He put the loss at $1.2 million.
Now, he is planning to make a permanent move.
In two months, he will move his net cages to either Pulau Tekong or the Southern Islands.
The tides are stronger there, which makes it harder for plankton to grow in one place.
The entire process will cost him $500,000.
He set up the company in 2009 after quitting his job as a regional sales manager at an oil and gas firm.
His love for fish runs "in the blood", he said with a smile.
"My grandfather used to run a kelong, my wife came from a family of fishmongers and, these days, whenever my 21/2-year-old daughter goes to a fish shop, she points to the tanks and refuses to leave," he added.
His Pulau Ketam site already houses more than 80 tanks.
Seabass and threadfin are kept there until they are about 100 days old, after which they are transferred to net cages.
They are then reared in the open sea until they reach a marketable size - 1.5kg to 2kg.
Mr Tan hopes to build more closed-containment systems eventually, but he said "skill" is needed to make them cost-effective.
For now, he is pinning his hopes on the relocation.
"It's too bad, but we should have moved there earlier," he said.
Investing in new system to do better
THE recent plankton bloom wiped out Gills 'n' Claws Aquaculture's stock of fishes at its farm north of Pulau Ubin, causing losses of 27 tonnes of sea bass, red snapper and pomfrets, and leaving only lobsters.
But 45-year-old owner Steven Suresh is far from giving up.
He has invested more than $1 million in a closed containment system which he hopes will not just make it cheaper to rear fish, but also prevent future blooms from affecting livestock.
The new system, developed by the firm's 46-year-old aquaculture expert G. Prabhagar, works by pumping seawater into containers floating on the sea, after passing through a UV filter which kills plankton and bacteria.
This way, the fish in the containers will be unaffected by plankton bloom.
Fish waste is also pumped out of the containers into the sea below, to feed the lobsters in nets.
The floating platform is largely made of galvanised metal, supported by polyethylene floats filled with compressed styrofoam, which makes it very sturdy.
It cost over $1 million to build, but Mr Suresh believes it is necessary to maintain the weight of the containers, which can contain up to 10 tonnes of water.
Mr Suresh, who started fish farming after he got a diploma in aquaculture from the University of Edinburgh in 2009, also owns farms in Sri Lanka and Malaysia.
The container system has been tested on its offshore farm in Malaysia, but this is the first time it will be done in the sea.
The original plan had been to roll it out at the end of the year, but this has been bumped to May, due to the mass fish deaths.
Each container will cost $50,000 to set up, and Mr Suresh hopes to have six containers at his Ubin kelong in two months' time.
Although it is pricey, he believes it will reduce the cost of feeding the fish by a fifth and cut mortality rates, saving money in the long run.
He intends to share the technology with other farmers, saying: "At the end of the day, we are all working together to produce food for Singapore."