Govt to help fish farms, but farmers must be vigilant

Govt to help fish farms, but farmers must be vigilant
Fish farmer Gary Chang (left) explaining to Minister of State for National Development Maliki Osman (centre) and AVA CEO Tan Poh Hong how he used canvas and a simple filtration system to mitigate last week's plankton bloom.

Help will be given to fish farmers badly hit by a plankton bloom last week, but they must also do their part, said Minister of State for National Development Maliki Osman yesterday.

The assisting agency, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), will provide assistance to fish farmers to recover and restart their operations.

It is also looking at how farmers can build resilience through contingency plans and carry out contingency exercises. But farmers, too, must be vigilant and proactive.

Yesterday, the Ministry of National Development said the AVA had alerted all the farms to elevated levels of plankton in the water, but not all of them took mitigating measures immediately, either because they did not have the tools to do so, or the means to afford them.

"Plankton bloom occurrences are very difficult to prevent, but it is possible to reduce the impact," said Dr Maliki after a visit to two farms located near the Lorong Halus jetty in Changi yesterday. "While we provide assistance to help farmers tide over this difficult period, it is also important for farmers to do their part to take mitigating measures early."

The AVA said the bloom killed an estimated 500 to 600 tonnes of fish as of Wednesday, and affected 55 out of 63 fish farms along the East Johor Strait. Its preliminary findings showed elevated levels of Karlodinium veneficum in seawater samples. "This plankton has been associated with fish kills worldwide," said an AVA spokesman.

Fish farmer Gary Chang said he was alerted to elevated plankton levels on Feb 16 and 17 by the AVA and started preparing for a bloom as early as Feb 20. The 58-year-old created a buffer by lining his net cages with canvas and installed a simple filtration system to maintain the air quality.

He said he lost less than $30,000 worth of fish this year, compared to $300,000 in a similar incident last year. "You have to prepare early. If you wait till the bloom hits, it will be too late," he said.

Dr Maliki, who visited Mr Chang's farm, said: "Other farmers also took measures, but unfortunately suffered severe losses as they may not have done so early enough."

This is the second bloom in as many years. Last year's incident killed about 500 tonnes of fish at 53 farms in both the East and West Johor straits, said the AVA spokesman. After that incident, farms had to restock their fish and some are planning to move to other sites.

Plankton blooms can be deadly as they suck oxygen from the water, suffocating other marine life.

The AVA said yesterday it was working with the Tropical Marine Science Institute at the National University of Singapore to conduct studies on plankton blooms.

An earlier tender called last year to design and develop closed containment aquaculture systems has also been awarded to five companies. The agency said no marine biotoxins were detected based on fish samples collected from the affected farms. It also said that live fish which are harvested from the farms are safe for consumption.

This article was first published on Mar 6, 2015.
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